By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Longhorns, Wolves, Sharks, Spartans and Indians are poised to walk the stage at high school graduation ceremonies set for the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall in Tampa.
These graduates from Lennard, Newsome, Riverview, Spoto and East Bay high schools, respectively, represent more than one in five of the nearly 14,000 seniors set to collect their Hillsborough County public school diploma holders in live ceremonies scheduled to run from May 24 through June 3, according to school officials.
In these unprecedented times, this year’s in-person graduation ceremonies mark a turning point in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which last year caused a school lockdown and cancellation of live graduation ceremonies.
“The graduates of Hillsborough County public schools have overcome incredible obstacles since the pandemic began, including pivoting to and from distance learning and consistently achieving amidst a difficult time in our nation,” school officials said in a news release. “It is now time to celebrate their outstanding achievements for the first in-person graduates since 2019.”
According to the latest count issued in the May 7 news release, 13,372 seniors from 27 comprehensive high schools are set to take the next step in college, military, workforce or other post-graduate programs. East Bay, Lennard, Newsome, Riverview and Spoto will graduate a total of 2,989 seniors or 22.4 percent of Hillsborough County’s 2021 high school graduates.
The school district’s 28th high school, named for Jule F. Sumner, opened in August in the Balm/Riverview area. As is the tradition in the Hillsborough County school district, high schools in their inaugural years do not have a senior class.
Collectively, the top seven high schools in Hillsborough in terms of graduate rolls account for 4,444 seniors, or 33 percent of the total for 27 high schools combined. Topping the list are Joe Newsome High in Lithia (742), Earl J. Lennard High in Ruskin (650), George Steinbrenner High in Lutz (624), Riverview (615), Plant in Tampa (611), Braulio Alonso High in Tampa (602) and East Bay High in Gibsonton (600).
Also set to graduate in the weeks ahead are 205 students from the Hillsborough Virtual School, 96 students from the Simmons Career Center in Plant City, 100 seniors from the South County Career Center in Ruskin, 30 students from the Bowers/Whitley Career Center in Tampa, 22 students from the D.W. Waters Career Center in Tampa and 41 students from six exceptional student education centers.
All together, that amounts to 13,866 seniors, which does not include graduating seniors from high schools that have charters to operate within the Hillsborough County school district.
Collectively, the district reports 80 valedictorians and salutatorians for its 27 high schools and Hillsborough Virtual School. Some high schools have more than one each because they have magnet, academy and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.
“Our valedictorians and salutatorians worked tirelessly to reach the top of their classes and are honored for their hard work and dedication to excellence,” reads the school district news release. “We are congratulating 20 seniors with an 8.0 [weighted] grade-point average or higher, 15 with a 9.0 grade-point average or higher and two students with a 10.0 grade-point average or higher.”
Those two students, each with a 10.08 weighted GPA, hail from Freedom (Hannah Barrios) and Plant City (Ankit Patel). Close behind are Robinson’s Angelina Krinos (9.99), Middleton magnet’s Alisha Das (9.98) and King’s IB valedictorian Vaishnavi Jayakumar (9.96).
Earning valedictorian and salutatorian honors at south county high schools are East Bay’s Asia Rackard and Randi Davis, each with a 7.63 reported GPA; Newsome’s Jacob Tracy (8.81) and Emily Valenza (8.19); Riverview’s Kiersten Doll (8.59) and Andrea Portillo-Sorto (7.79); and Spoto’s Asia Nobles (9.04) and Jashly Garcia (7.21).
Also, from Lennard’s traditional high school program, Makenzie Burke (6.86) and Melissa Felix (6.85); from its collegiate academy, Caitlin Brennan (7.51) and Madhav Sagi (7.49).
Signing out as class presidents from the five south county high schools are Mia Grandos (East Bay), Natalie Nicosia (Lennard), Madison Howard (Newsome), Joanne Abadie (Riverview) and Emilee Quave (Spoto).
As for the graduates overall, school superintendent Addison Davis praised the class of 2021 for its perseverance through difficult times.
“I look forward to celebrating this momentous occasion with each of our incredible graduates,” Davis said. “These students have faced tremendous challenges throughout the pandemic, continually exceeding expectations no matter the circumstances. Their families, teachers, school staff and communities are proud of their dedication to excellence and perseverance as they walk across the stage to new beginnings.”
With the return of in-person graduation ceremonies, come reminders that we continue to live in pandemic times. Seats are limited and school officials said each ceremony will be streamed live from the school district website for friends and extended family members who cannot attend in person.
Also, protocols are in place that encompass health and safety measures outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to school officials, the plan was developed after meeting with health partners at Tampa General Hospital and USF Health and in cooperation with the Florida State Fairground Authority.
Graduation dates and times for south county high schools are as follows: Lennard (4 p.m. May 26), Riverview (12 p.m. May 28), Spoto (8 p.m. May 28), East Bay (4 p.m. June 1) and Newsome (8 p.m. June 2). The Hillsborough Virtual School ceremony is scheduled for 8 p.m. June 3. The Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall is at 4800 U.S. Highway 301, Tampa. Visit Hillsborough schools at www.sdhc.k12.fl.us.