Valedictorious


The students of Marion Countys class of 2014 have taken their commencement walks, framed their diplomas and begun building the next phases of their lives. Of course, some students went the extra mile in their four years of high school. This year, the extra mile was crowded with ambitious, inspiring students. These valedictorians are talking about how they made it to the top of the class and passing on advice to incoming students on how to get the most out of their time in high school.



James W. Cowan


Belleview High School


GPA: 4.83


University of Florida


dual majoring in electrical engineering and business administration


What are your top three study tips?


1. Be confident. You’re taking the class; why would you not be able to pass the test? Don’t make any one test bigger than it is. 2. Have a study routine. For big tests, I have coffee or an energy drink and eat dark chocolate the night I study and right before the test. 3.Wake up to study first thing in the morning; my physics and calculus teacher told me that you remember more. It’s not fun, but I always retained more information! If nothing else, it’s useful in a pinch.


Whats one thing everyone should do in high school?


Try. It sounds simple and cliché because it is. There is no valid reason not to try in high school. I’m not saying everyone should go home and hit the books immediately—not even I do that, but don’t make dumb excuses to avoid being productive.



Audrey Vero


Belleview High School


GPA: 5.0


University of Central Florida


majoring in biomedical sciences


Why are academics important to you?


I’ve always wanted to do well in school, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I got serious with my schoolwork. Academics are the base of our lives. We must do well in high school and college in order to get the jobs we want. Also, having more knowledge makes it easier for you to achieve your goals.


Whats something new you want to try in college?


I wish I had branched out more and gotten to know my classmates better. In college, I want to join as many clubs as possible. At UCF they offer over 560 clubs, so I think it would be cool to join as many as possible as a way to meet a variety of new people.



Chloe Cook


Dunnellon High School


GPA: 4.72


University of Florida


majoring in mathematics


How do you stay motivated to study and do assignments?


I realize that my grades will greatly impact my future, and I have always been very competitive. My goal since I was in ninth grade was to be valedictorian, which always motivated me to study and do assignments.


Whats something new you want to try in college/after graduation?


In college, I would like to study abroad so that I can see different parts of the world and experience different cultures.


Whats one thing everyone should do in high school?


Everyone should attend as many high school functions as possible, such as prom, homecoming and football games, because these opportunities are once-in-a-lifetime events.


Who was your favorite teacher and why?


My favorite teacher is Mr. Ayton because he is always motivated and passionate about his job. I hope when I choose a career I am just as passionate about it as he is about teaching.


How have you changed in the last four years?


As a freshman, I was shy and unsure of what I could accomplish. I was scared to make class presentations because I cared too much about what others thought about me. As a high school graduate, I am more confident in myself and have conquered my fear of public speaking by addressing my entire senior class in my valedictorian speech.


How did you decide on your major and where to go to school?


I have excelled in mathematics since I was in elementary school. As I began my search for careers in mathematics, I decided fairly quickly that I wanted to be an actuary because it involves analytical methods and mathematical skills. I chose the University of Florida because it is one of the top universities in Florida and has a program for students pursuing actuarial science.



John C. Stabler


Francis Marion Military Academy


GPA: 4.67


United States Military Academy at West Point


majoring in physics or applied mathematics


What are your top three study tips?


1. Always get your homework done first thing when you get home from school before anything else (my favorite). 2. Always quiz yourself before a test so you can tell if you are proficient or not. 3. Do casual reading about random things to increase your general knowledge.


How do you stay motivated to study and do assignments?


I stay motivated to study and do assignments because I absolutely love to learn as much about the world around me as possible. It thrills me when I learn about something new or when I learn a trick to the inner workings of something.


Whats one thing everyone should do in high school?


One thing everyone should do in high school is be on a sports team and captain in that sport if possible. It is very important to know what it is like to succeed and fail as a team, because both will happen. Many life lessons are learned on the courts, fields, tracks and rinks of high school sports.


How have you changed in the last four years?


In the past four years, Francis Marion Military Academy has transformed me from a greasy, snot-nosed little middle-schooler to someone who has the confidence to take on the world.


How did you decide on your major and where to go to school?


I decided that I wanted to be a physicist or a mathematician because I see the world around me as one huge mathematical equation. There is a way to solve each and every part of it. I was appointed and chosen to go to the United States Military Academy because it has a rigorous academic program and the top leadership and character training in the world.



Daniela Cristina Cobb


Forest High School


GPA: 5.0


Rasmussen College


majoring in nursing


Why are academics important to you?


Because I’ve learned that it can help take you far in life and give you the ability to succeed.


Which book should every student read in high school and why?


Rebecca, because it shows how nothing is what it seems and it is beautifully written.


How do you stay motivated to study and do assignments?


I’m always busy, so when I am doing an assignment, I try to finish it because I may not have time to do it later.


Whats one thing everyone should do in high school?


Everyone should join either a club or sport. It really allows them to show their school spirit and develop a close relationship with their classmates and impact the community.


Who was your favorite teacher and why?


Mr. Maiman, because he was also my cross country coach and I was able to really get to know him, and he really helped me throughout high school.


How have you changed in the last four years?


I have not changed. I still want to work hard, I still want to achieve and I still want to do my best.


What do you do if youre nervous before a test?


If I can, I try to listen to music or briefly look over my notes in order to reassure myself that I know the information.


Why did you choose your major?


I decided on my major because I want to help people and be able to work in a medical office.



Alexis Cavakis-Perez


Lake Weir High School


GPA: 4.8


University of Florida


major is undecided


Why are academics important to you?


Academics enable people to expand past the world they know, making them knowledgeable, which allows them to be smarter and more considerate when it comes to their decisions.


How do you stay motivated to study and do assignments?


I stayed motivated for two reasons: my future and my mother. I knew that in order to get into a good college and put myself on the right track I had to buckle down and push myself. I believe all that hard work will pay off, and it is already beginning to. I was also motivated because I wanted to make my mother proud. She has worked so hard to raise my siblings and me, and it is the least I can do for her.


Whats one thing everyone should do in high school?


Dress up for Homecoming Week. You will not regret it. It is so much fun, and you will not want to miss out on the opportunity.



Courtney Lynn Duprey


Lake Weir High School


GPA: 4.8


University of Florida


majoring in telecommunications


Whats one thing everyone should do in high school?


In high school I believe that everyone should try a sport. It’s a great way to stay active, involved and build great friendships.


Who was your favorite teacher?


My favorite teachers were my elective teachers Mr. Miller and Mr. Nat. Without them, my high school life wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable. 


How have you changed in the last four years?


Through the last four years, I have gained the confidence and knowledge to become a leader and step up in my community. 


How did you choose your school and major?


Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a passion for the Gators as well as news and broadcasting. Through TV production in high school, I realized that’s what I want to pursue, and the University of Florida has a great program for it. After graduation, I will have to adjust to living in an apartment in Gainesville and being on my own.



Greta Gilligan


Meadowbrook Academy


GPA: 5.0


Southeastern University


majoring in elementary education, minoring in child psychology


Why are academics important to you?


I’ve been raised to do everything with excellence, especially academics. Plus, having never been very athletic, academics were an area where I felt I could shine. It always sparked a passion in me, even at 5 and 6, knowing I wanted to grow up to become an educator.


What were your best and worst subjects?


English and literature were always my stronger areas. Math has always been the bane of my academic existence.


What are your best study tips?


1. Most importantly, repetition. Review, and review, and review—flip through flash cards, create online quizlets or ask a family member to test you until you recall the information with ease and without any uncertainty. 2. Stay organized. While this isn’t directly related to gaining or retaining knowledge, it will ease your mind and relieve stress to help you accomplish more. 3. Stay motivated. I found a “rewards system” to be my best way of staying motivated. For every 30 minutes of studying, I’d give myself a 10-minute break. Food always worked as great motivation for me, too. I was almost always eating while studying. It kept me alert and energized.


Which book should every student read in high schooland why?


The Giver by Lois Lowry. It’s not only a well-written, wonderful work of fiction, but it’s loaded with important morals and lessons. It’s the type of book that’ll make you want to go write a book.


How do you stay motivated to study and do assignments?


I try to focus on the feeling of relief and freedom that hits once an assignment is completed and how that feeling is multiplied when it’s completed to the best of my ability.


Whats something new you want to try in college?


I would love to learn an instrument or another foreign language in addition to Spanish.



Mark Young


North Marion High School


GPA: 4.83


Florida State University


majoring in motion picture arts-production


Have academics always been important to you?


Yes, I’ve always had good grades, but it’s also important to not stress over them so much or else you’ll get burned out. Academics are important because I know they are an important factor in being admitted into colleges and getting farther in life.


How do you stay motivated to study and do assignments?


Start with the stuff you know and work your way to the harder stuff. If you can’t figure it out yourself, Google it or ask friends and teachers. It also helps to take breaks and go run or something to get you moving and take your mind off of things.


Whats one thing everyone should do in high school?


Get involved! Join a club! Do a sport! Just do something!


Who was your favorite teacher and why?


Mrs. Miller! I’ve had her all four years of high school for Web design and digital design. Not only is she a teacher but also the yearbook advisor and senior class sponsor. She knows how to have a good time but also gets the students to do their work. She is definitely one of the most inspirational people I have ever met, and she sets a perfect example for everyone around her.


How did you decide on your school and major?


For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in movie production. As a kid, when we bought a DVD, I would watch all the special features that were available. I love how motion pictures can tell stories and give people an escape from reality. No matter what they’re going through, they can experience love, adventure, comedy and an endless amount of emotions. I chose FSU because their College of Motion Picture Arts program is one of the top-ranked film schools in the country.



Lois Margarette Burns


Ocala Christian Academy


GPA: 4.56


University of Florida


majoring in nursing


Have academics always been important to you?


Absolutely! From elementary school through high school, academics have been something that I always strove to succeed in. My goal was to get straight As and then my goal turned into striving to be valedictorian.


Whats one thing everyone should do in high school?


Get involved, and make good friends! Get involved in your church, school and community! Sometimes it is not the most comfortable thing to go out and find good friends who will help build you up, but you will be most grateful for them later on.


How have you changed in the last four years?


I think I have changed by learning to persevere when times are hard. When I did not want to study, I studied… or when I did not want to be kind to people that were not kind to me, I tried to because I knew that is what I am called to do.


What do you do if youre nervous before a test?


Pray, and remember that all the studying is over and all I can do is my best.


How did you decide on your major and where to go to school? 


One of the hardest decisions I have had was choosing where to go to college. I really tried to seek what God’s will was for this part of my life. There were months and months of looking into each school, but after much praying, thinking and deliberating, I have decided to attend the University of Florida. I would like to become a registered nurse and work in the delivery room or the emergency room. I have even thought about being a helicopter nurse. I may also want to go further than nursing, but for right now, just nursing is the plan.



Erik Higginbotham


St. John Lutheran High School


GPA: 4.83


University of Florida


majoring in electrical engineering


Why are academics important to you?


Academics are important to me because they help me achieve my goals. Everyone desires to be successful at some level, but not everyone is willing to put in the work. Through academics, I can be successful and be someone I’m proud of.


Which book should every student read in high school and why?


Every student should read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This novel shows the importance of education and original thought in life.


Whats one thing you wish you had done in high school?


I wish I would have been more involved in school sports. The sports I did play connected me with people I never thought I would be friends with and taught me invaluable leadership skills.


Whats something new you want to try in college?


Getting involved in student government. There was not a big program at my high school, and I have always wanted to get involved that way.


Who was your favorite teacher and why?


My favorite teacher was Mr. Paul Heath. Although he did not teach one of my favorite subjects (AP literature), he made the class enjoyable and taught me that gaining valuable wisdom through life experiences is just as important as being successful.


How did you decide on your school and major?


My decision was a no-brainer. The University of Florida is one of, if not the best, school in Florida. I have always been a Gator and having alumni parents encouraged me to carry on the legacy. I decided on electrical engineering because the field is vast and growing continuously. Problem solving has always been a skill of mine, and I aspire to use that skill to solve some of the world’s puzzles.



Andres Cedeño


Trinity Catholic High School


GPA: 4.76


University of Notre Dame


majoring in science, pre-professional (pre-med)


Have academics always been important to you?


Yes, academics have always been important. They help me reach my goals of becoming a doctor. From a young age, my parents taught me the importance of getting good grades and always trying my best in everything that I do.


What are your top three study tips?


1. Don’t study just the night before. If you study a couple days ahead, then you can break it down into parts and it becomes much easier. 2. Make sure you go over everything and not just what you think may be on the test. 3. Get a good amount of sleep.


Whats one book everyone should read in high school?


Everyone should read Guns, Germs, and Steel. It’s a book that retells the history of the world in a fascinating way. “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”- George Santayana.


What is one thing everyone should do in high school?


I wish I had gotten involved in clubs from the very beginning instead of waiting until halfway. Everyone should get involved in clubs or sports or any extracurricular activity really. It’s a great way to learn as well as meet new people.


How did you decide on your school and major?


As a child I was always sick and in the doctor’s office or hospital, but I had a wonderful pediatrician who always helped me feel better. I want to help other kids like she helped me. This made choosing my major easy. When it came to choosing a college, I wanted to go somewhere that had rigorous academics as well as a community aspect, and Notre Dame filled both of those requirements. When I was invited to visit Notre Dame, I was choosing between the University of Florida or Notre Dame. When I got there I saw how beautiful it was, how nice the people were and how they’re like a family, and I knew I had to go there.



Maria Hyde


Vanguard High School


GPA: 5.0


University of Florida


majoring in biology


Why are academics important to you?


I believe that an education is one of the most important things to have. It is a part of me and something that no one can take away.


What are your top three study tips?


Prioritize your tasks, don’t procrastinate and stay clear of social networking while studying.


Who was your favorite teacher and why?


My favorite teacher was my 12th-grade English and theory of knowledge teacher, Mr. Carstenn. He always went out of his way to make learning an enjoyable and empowering experience. He encouraged us to challenge traditional ideas, which made us much more open-minded and accepting of others’ opinions.


What do you do if youre nervous before a test?


If I get nervous before a test, I try for a relaxed state of concentration. I clear my mind of any doubts and lightly review key points of what I have studied.


How did you choose your major?


This past year, I organized a charity 5K fundraiser, and with the help of 53 of my peers, we raised money to help underprivileged children in Vietnam. This experience made me realize that I want to become more involved in humanitarian work. By striving toward a degree in biomedicine, I hope to be able to help others live longer, healthier lives.

Vanguard’s 28 Co-valedictorians


Ana Paula Arenas


Mackenzie Nicole Bowlin


William Alexander Brown


Nikhil Surexa Cacodcar


Zackery Merrill Calder


Shannon Marie Domfort


Christina Eileen Ferguson


John Herbert Ghannam


Jasmine Summer Henry


Maria Teresa Hyde


Alec Nicholas Inmon


Melissa Anne Kays


Gitanjali Lakshminarayanan


Kira Jasmine Lowell


Lisa San Ly


Reena Leela Manohar


Skyler Alysse McCain


Madison Carmen Murvin


Faith Chiamaka Obimdike


Enhid Faye Guisala Pitas


Christopher Franz Polack


Nisha Prasad


Nikoloff Rampersad


Lauren Fay Robertson


Justin James Taylor


Thomas Louis Truchement


Chandler Wescott Yap


Ambar Zapata


*Editor’s Note: Maria Hyde was chosen to speak with Ocala Style based on voting among Vanguard’s group of valedictorians.



Kavelin Rumalla


West Port High School


GPA: 5.0 24 credit GPA 


University of Missouri


Kansas City School of Medicine


majoring in biology, minoring in entrepreneurship and earning Doctor of Medicine Degree (M.D.)


What is your No. 1 study tip?


It is absolutely essential in school to always accurately keep track of your to-do list and what you need to accomplish in a given day, month or semester.


How did you decide on your college and major?


Six years ago, my perfectly healthy brother’s life took a turn for the worse. He has been through 20+ brain operations, complications from surgeries trying to cure the mystery condition and many flights and drives to famous hospitals up and down the East Coast. Now he is better due to the outstanding work of some special neurologists and neurosurgeons. I never truly understood the medical field until I saw my brother as a patient and how big a difference doctors can make on an individual’s life. I applied to the 6-year medical program at the University of Missouri Kansas City. On one of the most memorable days of my life, I was accepted to the program. I get to start my career early and start pursuing what I love to do.



Emily Ann Scott


West Port High School


GPA: 5.0


Florida State University


majoring in English literature


Whats something new you want to try after graduation?


I would really like to read all of Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno. It is a classic I have been trying to read now for years but have never been able to finish.


Who was your favorite teacher and why?


If I have to choose, I would say that my high school English teachers—Mr. Garcia-Suarez, Mr. Hester and Mr. Hunte—were my favorites. They had the most impact upon my life, nurturing the goal that I have set for myself: to be a writer. They have pushed me to think critically and creatively and to never be afraid to ask “why.”


How did you decide on your major and where to go to school?


My Mom is an FSU alumnus, so Seminole Fever naturally runs in my family! Majoring in English literature is a natural decision. When I do not have pen to paper or my fingers typing away on a keyboard, my eyes are glued to a book. There’s a quote I really like by T.D. Jakes that says, “If you can’t figure out your purpose, find out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose.” And those words are some that I live by fiercely.


**All GPAs listed are weighted.

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