Proceeds from the Marathon Seafood Festival serve a very important purpose — funding scholarships for local kids. Both the Marathon Chamber of Commerce and the Marathon chapter of the Organized Fishermen of Florida select graduating Marathon High School seniors and award them grants to pursue higher education. The Keys Weekly checked in with some of the students to see how they are faring:

TEDDY VIOLISSI III

2017 Marathon High School graduate Teddy Violissi III is working his dream job and says his scholarship played a significant role in getting him to where he is today.

“Going through that scholarship program and attending the school I did are probably the only reasons I’m able to do what I am now,” said Teddy, who used his scholarship money towards a three-month Georgia trade school, Southeast Lineman Training Center, in power-line work.

Through a Southeast Lineman Training Center apprenticeship, he is now living in South Carolina working for Duke Energy.

“I love it, it’s definitely rewarding,” he said. “I’ve already been able to buy a house and become really stable. Without the scholarship I received, I wouldn’t have been able to go to the school I wanted. And without that school on my resume, I probably wouldn’t have made it to the place I am now.”

Teddy has been happily working for Duke Energy for about a year and a half.

ABIGAIL FRANCK

A first-year University of Florida student, Abigail Franck has big ambitions. Studying chemical engineering with a minor in biomolecular engineering, her goal is to go into the petroleum or pharmaceutical industry and move to a big city like New York, Chicago or D.C., following graduation.

“Early in my career, I’d love to work on an oil rig because it’s two weeks on and two weeks off,” she explained. “I could just travel and cross off my bucket list before really settling down.”

Abigail’s ultimate dream job would be to work in genetically engineering cells for cancer research and treatment. The scholarship she earned from the Marathon Chamber of Commerce is one of many elements that will help her get there.

“Receiving this scholarship definitely helped me get everything I need to be successful,” she said. “I was able to buy a new computer, which I needed, and get everything for my room to help feel comfortable and settled in. It’s helped me feel like I have a place to go and people to support me. It’s helped make Gainesville home, which will allow me to find success and thrive.”

ALYSSA TURNER

Alyssa Turner is a Florida State University biology student on track to graduate this fall with aspirations to be a professor, do field research, or, her ultimate goal, work on the Great Barrier Reef. Alyssa believes growing up in the Keys environment with a father who is a commercial fisherman helped shape her interests.

A 2017 Marathon High School graduate, Alyssa received scholarships from both the Chamber of Commerce and Organized Fishermen of Florida. She attributes these scholarships to her ability to join clubs and begin research work at the beginning of her college career.

“Thank you to those who gave me my scholarships – they’ve really helped me explore my college interests early on,” said Alyssa. “Because of the scholarships, from the very start I could focus more on academics, join the lab, and not worry about having to get a job my first year.”

Since her freshman year, Alyssa has been a member of FSU’s WIMSE program – Women in Math, Science and Engineering – a living-learning community designed to promote support among women in STEM and help them get involved in research.

ORIANA MENDEZ

Oriana Mendez graduated from Marathon High School in 2019 and left shortly thereafter for her first summer semester at University of Florida. Studying business administration, Oriana is keeping her options open but says UF has a lot of programs to help students figure out their correct career path.

Oriana is very close to her family and said moving from the Keys, where she’s lived her entire life, to Gainesville was an adjustment, but through her classes and organizations, she’s found her people and her place, having created a home away from home.

In addition to involvement in her sorority, Sigma Kappa, Oriana is a part of the Heavener Leadership Development Program and a member of clubs Florida Women in Business and Global Business Society.

Oriana says the scholarship she received from the Chamber of Commerce alleviated the financial burden of buying books and tuition.

“These past three semesters, I haven’t had to pay anything in tuition and it’s because of all the scholarships the community of Marathon offers students at Marathon High School,” she said. “Thank you for being so willing to help all of us grow past our high school selves and start our future.”

BENJAMIN RYDER

Marathon High School Class of 2018 salutatorian Ben Ryder is now a University of Florida sophomore studying material science engineering and minoring in chemistry.

Ben has taken complete advantage of the offerings at his school. He competes with the UF Rock Climbing Team, a hobby that takes up a good part of his time. And last year, he conducted research with an aerospace professor on material strength testing of different 3D printed materials – an experience he considers “very neat.”

Ben is also on a bladesmithing team. Over the next year, Ben and his teammates will design a blade, make it themselves, and conduct specific heat treatments and more to ultimately get the desirable properties for the blade in time for the competition deadline.

Ben says he really appreciates the local scholarships and support given to Marathon high schoolers every year.

“I am in my fourth semester of college and because of my Bright Futures and local scholarships, I haven’t had to pay anything out of my own pocket,” he said. “It’s really hard to thank somebody for giving you such a valuable gift as a college education.”

SARAH MANDILE

Marathon High School 2018 graduate Sarah Mandile considers Marathon home despite being raised in Pennsylvania.

“Marathon has a special place in my heart,” she said. “I only lived there for four years before coming to University of Florida, but it’s where I did most of my growing up.”

Now in her second year studying journalism at UF, Sarah is a metro news staff writer for the Alligator, a student-run Gainesville newspaper – something she calls an “incredible learning experience.”

Thanks to her professor, Ted Bridis, whose investigative reporting uncovered Hillary Clinton’s private email server, Sarah is inspired to pursue investigative journalism as a possible career path. Keeping her options open, she’s also considering radio and aspiring to be an editor.

She says earning her pilot’s license is additionally in her future and potentially becoming a flight instructor.

Sarah is a member of music fraternity Sigma Alpha Iota. She believes the scholarships she earned gave her the opportunity to explore extracurriculars.

“Receiving my scholarship from the Chamber of Commerce was a blessing – I was able to get this far without taking out loans,” she said. “Not having to work freshman year helped me acclimate and get involved instead of worrying about money.”

AARON TIPSWORD

Graduating from Marathon High School in 2019, Aaron Tipsword is now studying aerospace engineering at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

Aaron says finances can significantly impact a student’s capability to attend college. For Aaron, receiving his scholarship helped relieve some of that financial burden, giving him the opportunity to attend a school that propels him one step closer to his ultimate dream of working for NASA in test flight.

“Having that peace of mind and weight off my shoulders of how I will pay for everything opens up room to focus on other important things like classes,” said Aaron, who also explained he’s been very school-focused (with a little bit of gaming) since coming to Embry Riddle last semester. Among other things, he’s enjoyed learning how to code.

Aaron’s plan following graduation involves working his way through the engineering ranks, getting to test flight, and earning his pilot’s license.

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