South County’s valedictorians, salutatorians aim high
Area high school's top grads have big plans
By PENNY FLETCHER
SOUTH COUNTY — It’s hard enough under normal circumstances to become class valedictorian or salutatorian and carry a grade-point-average above a 6. But to be translating everything from English into another language in your head as you hear it makes it amazing and four of the six students I spoke with last week are doing just that.
East Bay High School’s valedictorian, Khattiya Chharath, now 17, came to the States from Cambodia at 12.
Her first language is Khmer; still she carries a 6.4 GPA and plans to go to the University of Florida and major in health science.
Her mother inspired her towards the medical field.
“My mother was a pharmacist in Cambodia,” Khattiya said. Khattiya has been taking classes at Hillsborough Community College on line at home while attending high school to give herself an edge. “I plan to be a doctor, either a cardiologist or psychiatrist,” she told me.
East Bay’s salutatorian, Kasandra Balleza, translates everything from English to Spanish for her family although sometimes now she thinks in English. Holding a steady 5.89 GPA, she plans to be an immigration lawyer.
She said she has seen many people who wanted to become citizens who could have used the help of a good immigration lawyer and wants to help others be able to come to America.
Once her family arrived, they worked hard, she explained.
“My two older sisters went to HCC but I’ll be the first one in my family to attend a university,” she said. Kasandra plans to go to USF.
But Kasandra has another reason to be proud as well, said East Bay’s principal, Sharon Morris. Kassandra has been selected to represent all of Hillsborough County at the College Board National Conference in San Francisco in July.
Morris and another East Bay staff member are paying their own way to California to attend the event.
“This is an amazing thing,” Morris said. “Last year, Kasandra was 19th in her class, and now she’s climbed to number two. And being chosen over all the students in the county to go to California is a very big honor.”
The story was close to the same at Lennard high school where its valedictorian, Olivia Masako Martin, has a first language of Spanish. The 18-year-old daughter of Connie and Michael Martin of Ruskin said she was influenced to want to become a pharmacist by a Walgreen’s pharmacy representative who spoke at a Great American Teach In when she was in the ninth grade.
She has chosen the University of Florida because of its pharmacy program, she said.
She has also chosen her roommate; and her roommate, Lennard salutatorian Reyna Theresa Bansil, has chosen her.
“We don’t want to be paired up with students who party all the time,” Olivia said. “I want to be sure the person I room with is as serious about learning as I am.”
Both said they did not know you could choose your own roommate until they were told that this year.
Reyna has been taking classes after school at HCC and says her biggest challenge has been learning English while doing her class assignments. Reyna came from the Philippines, where she spoke a language called Tagalog.
“When I first got here everyone at my middle school expected I would not learn well, so I was put in lower-level classes,” Reyna said. “Our education system there was very different. We didn’t even have GPAs. I’ll bet I’m the only student who read the whole student handbook because I didn’t know and wanted to learn about these things.”
Reyna earned the title of Statewide Volunteer of the Year 2010 for the ALS Association (Lou Gehrig’s disease) for which she raises funds and volunteers.
“I’ve been doing corporate sponsorship and research,” she said.
Meanwhile, at Riverview, while the valedictorian and salutatorian didn’t have to overcome language barriers, they have every reason to be just as proud.
At 18, the valedictorian, Carolyn Harnish, maintains a 6.4 GPA, and its salutatorian, Kayleen Boatwright, 18, a 6.2.
The daughter of Jim and Cathy Harnish of Boyette Springs, Carolyn plans to attend the University of Florida and study to be a nurse practitioner with a specialty in pediatrics.
Having already spent time with her church group from Bell Shoals Baptist on two mission trips to Brazil, Carolyn wants to work in places like Africa and South America where people don’t get proper medical care.
When asked what (or who) her inspiration was, she said without hesitation it had been her parents.
“My parents always taught me about equality and being the very best I could be. They showed me that the Lord has given me this life to bless someone else and they have never said that what I did wasn’t good enough, no matter what.”
When Carolyn went to Brazil, she didn’t know she could receive credit for church volunteer hours. “I ended up getting credit (toward scholarships) for it, but I didn’t expect it at the time,” she said.
Carolyn is president of the school’s National Honor Society and is almost ready to achieve the Girl Scout’s highest award, the Gold Award.
Meanwhile, Kayleen Boatwright, Riverview’s salutatorian, has earned both academic and athletic scholarships and will be attending the University of Tampa to study international business.
“I don’t want to sit at a desk. I want to travel,” she said.
Kayleen had volunteered for many causes during her high school years, including Relay for Life and is a member of the National Honor Society with a 6.2 GPA.
She is the daughter of Kelley and Robert Boatwright of Riverview.