As the 2009 school year quickly comes to a close, The Weekly Newspapers asked administrators at each of Monroe County’s high schools to nominate three outstanding students from their institutions’ graduating class. From outstanding athletes to academic scholars and impressive, well-rounded students, we present nine of the Florida Keys’ more than 550 graduates.
David Huntt has yet to decide what he will study in college, but this star defensive tackle from Marathon High School knows he’s ready to play ball. In July, David will head to Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton to begin training and lifting weights during football camp. He’s looking for red shirt status in his first year of play as a preferred walk-on.
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” David explained.
He was headed to Jacksonville to check out the campus of one of the seven other schools to which he applied, and he and his mom decided to make a stop over in Boca to check out FAU. During orientation, one of the coaches asked if anyone in the crowd played football and David raised his hand.
The self-professed die hard Gator fan had hoped to play for the University of Florida, but he will take some valuable lessons he learned on the field with him to FAU.
“My coaches taught me respect and discipline. They taught me to never say no and always push for your goals.”
He’s considering studying sports management or perhaps orthopedic surgery, but admits he’s hoping his football career will take off in college.
“That’s really my passion,” he confessed.
Vanessa Sardina is among the collection of Monroe County graduates headed to the University of Florida after graduation. At the end of June, she’ll head to Gainesville to get a head start on her college career in the Summer B Session for incoming freshman.
“I’m excited to go ahead and get up there and meet new people,” she explained with her signature enthusiasm. “Enrolling in the summer session will really help me with the transition to life in a bigger town.”
Her love for math and numbers has directed her toward considering an engineering degree. Though she’s not exactly sure which specific field she will focus her studies, she’s excited about the array of choices in front of her.
“I love math. I’ve taken all the math classes available here at Marathon High School, and I look forward to taking more in college.”
Vanessa admitted that UF has always been her dream school. It offers a variety of engineering programs but allows her to stay in state and remain close to her family.
This well-rounded student athlete has spent her high school days on the volleyball court, basketball court and softball field all the while serving as president of the Student Government Association, participating in Z-Club as well as Relay for Life.
Cory Fulcher will graduate at the top of his class on June 11, and two days later, he will head to Washington University in St. Louis to begin summer classes.
In fact, Fulcher knew immediately when he began the college application process that he was headed to Missouri after graduation – Washington University was the only school to which he applied.
Cory relocated to Marathon from Corpus Cristi, Texas when his father, Dr. David Fulcher accepted a position at Fishermen’s Hospital. His plans to study biology and hopes of one day becoming a doctor clearly have family ties.
“I went with my mom, Alycia, to visit the campus. We saw the Arc, and the campus was gorgeous. We ate a lot of awesome food,” he remembered.
By starting school early, Cory said he hopes to quickly get acclimated to his new surroundings and get a head start on the next chapter.
“I’m really looking forward to moving to a bigger city, making new friends and pursuing a higher level of education. I’m ready to try something new.”
Cory was actively involved in the National Honor Society, Relay for Life, Student Government Association as well as the school’s leadership program. He admits he will miss the ocean as well as the close-knit friendships he’s made while living in Marathon.
Olivia Kent always had her sights set on an Ivy League school. She just wasn’t sure which one.
“I always knew there would be greater opportunities at an Ivy League. Since middle school, college has been my focus.”
She admitted Harvard had always been in her sights, but in her junior year at Key West High School, she met some alumni from the Dartmouth Club of the Keys. Their passion for their alma mater was one she’d not yet encountered with other alumni. Everyone she spoke to raved about the college, so she completed her application package without even visiting the campus.
Olivia applied to 11 schools, in fact, and was accepted to six. She eventually narrowed down her decision between Dartmouth, Duke University and Tufts.
“I always wanted to go back north to be closer to my family,” she explained. The Massachusetts native came with her parents, Claire and David, to open an art gallery.
She hopes to study literature or pursue a degree in international relations or political science. Olivia admitted she’d like to teach college, but she’s also developed a greater interest in government.
“Hopefully I’ll figure it out when I get there,” she laughed. “I love other cultures and I love traveling.”
The most valuable lesson she’ll take away from her life in the Keys?
“People can always surprise you. There are so many people here who bring so much to the table. You can’t stereotype anyone. You have to remain open.”
Frankie Ratcliff has packed his belongings each summer and moved to Miami to pursue his dreams of life on the baseball diamond. Since he was able to pick up a bat, this Conch has always played America’s sport.
At 16 years old, Frankie began playing with the Florida Bombers, a traveling league team based on the mainland. In order to increase his exposure to potential coaches and scouts, Frankie left his family behind in Key West during his summer vacation and really worked to set the course for his future.
“I’ve never had anything handed to me. I’ve always had to do everything myself. It’s hard to get scouts to drive the extra three hours down from Miami, so, I decided … to go to them.”
Frankie said since his freshman year at KWHS, he’s had his sites set on a baseball scholarship. Four years of hard work and determination have made his dreams a reality. After graduation, he’ll head back up to Miami for his final season with the Bombers. In the fall, he will start school at the University of Miami and begin training with one of the top collegiate programs in the country.
Born and raised in France, Vincent Le Neures was 15 when he came to live with his father on Stock Island. The young man’s life had been turned on its head, and his family decided it would be best if he tried attending school stateside. .
“It worked out pretty good,” said the KWHS senior.
After graduation, he’ll head to the mainland to attend the University of Central Florida. Vincent said he’s not yet sure of his major, but he’s contemplating something in liberal arts, humanities, psychology or political science.
Language, he insists, is his strong suit. Two years ago, he came to the country speaking only broken English. Learning to “think in English” instead of “thinking in French” was one of his biggest challenges.
His standardized test scores prove he’s right. On both the ACT and his AP English exams, Vincent achieved perfect scores.
Though he’s looking forward to starting college, living on his own and making new friends, Vincent said he’s still a bit unsure about Orlando as a city.
“It’s all just Disney there. It doesn’t really have a soul. Key West is such a unique place with lots of artists and writers.”
Even though Jonathan Kaicher always liked the structure and discipline of the military, his mother told him he was too smart to simply enlist. So, he applied to several military schools including the Naval Academy, the Citadel and the University of Florida’s ROTC Program.
Born and raised in Tavernier, Jonathan said he’d always hoped to go into the Navy. But on June 29, he will head to West Point to pursue his education. He said he’s looking forward to both the mental and physical challenge, but he is not exactly looking forward to eight weeks of boot camp.
“I’ll be in school for eight years, but I’m getting a $450,000 education. I’m basically getting paid to go to school,” he explained.
Jonathan said he plans to major in chemical engineering and work in some capacity with solar energy.
During his high school career, Jonathan ran cross country and track, played soccer and was active in six clubs including Interact, Mu Alpha Theta, National Honor Society and English Honors Society. He says he’ll take a very relaxed understanding of and approach to life that he’s cherished growing up in the Keys.
What will he miss most?
“Going to the beach during hurricanes. The parking lots always flood, so we ride our bikes and pull each other on skim boards,” he laughed.
Allison Rhyne’s interest in pursuing a career in medicine began during a backpacking trip to Guatemala last summer.
As part of a Spanish immersion program, she backed two pairs of shorts, some bug spray and her hiking shoes and traveled all over the country in only six short weeks. Allison said when she spoke with area doctors about the healthcare disparities in the country’s rural clinics; she knew this was what she wanted to do.
“There were needles just laying around and blood everywhere. I couldn’t believe this was where people were coming to receive their medical care,” she said.
On August 18, she’ll head to Duke University to begin her studies in a pre-med major. Duke is affiliated with hospitals in third world countries like Tanzania and Haiti, so she’s looking forward to the next chapter in her life.
“No matter what, I want to make an impact and bring about some sort of change. Not only where I am, but in the community in which I live.”
Allison has been active in SGA all four years of her high school career. She is currently the Editor-in-chief of Coral Shores’ Hurricane Watch newspaper as well as captain of the varsity swim and tennis teams.
She’s considering trying to walk on the tennis team at Duke.
Ryan Biondoletti, wide receiver and free safety for CSHS’s football team and pitcher and centerfielder for the baseball team, is heading to Seminole Community College June 3 to continue his career in baseball.
“Football is too rough. I couldn’t continue to take the beatings,” he explained of his choice of sport.
Also born and raised in Tavernier, Ryan said he’ll miss spending time out on the boat with his brothers and his father, Vinnie, an area fishing guide.
“I really got to grow up in a unique place,” Ryan said. “The Keys are definitely more laid back. I think kids here mature more quickly because of the exposure to all people from different walks of life.”
Ryan’s true athletic passion has always been baseball since he first started playing t-ball more than a decade ago. Of his college experience, he’s happy to be able to continue in the sport and remain close to his family. Several of his friends will be attending UCF and Valencia College, and Ryan will be living with his older brother, Daniel, who is a firefighter in Orange County.
He’ll likely pursue a degree in sports medicine. When he was injured on the football field recently, the rehabilitation process, he explained, was something that piqued his interest outside the athletic realm.