Best & Brightest seniors brimming with talent

From the Tallahassee Democrat

Throughout their past four years of high school, the 2017 Best & Brightest nominated seniors did it all: They painted murals, volunteered countless service hours, started clubs at their respective schools and excelled on the field, court, in the pool or wherever they competed.

On Wednesday night, those 160 seniors were under the bright lights — literally — of Ruby Diamond Concert Hall to be recognized for their efforts as their families, teachers and Leon County Schools administrators applauded.

The Best & Brightest Awards, founded by Ron Sachs, awards the winners of its 15 categories $1,500, runner-ups $750 and honorable mentions $500. None of the finalists go home empty-handed, however. All receive checks for $100. Sachs, who typically acts as master of ceremonies for the event, was not able to make the engagement and so Chamber of Commerce Program Director Laura Rogers took the reins.

Representatives from Tallahassee Community College and the Southern Scholarship Foundation were on hand to announce scholarships for the award winners.

The night’s keynote speaker, Florida A&M interim president Larry Robinson, praised the students for all they have accomplished but urged them to be mindful of their parents and others who have supported and sacrificed to foster their dreams.

“This evening, we celebrate our students achieving excellence in all they do, regardless of what the challenges were that they faced,” Robinson said. “In fact, I would even wager some of you found a way to excel in spite of some very tough circumstances, economic and otherwise.”

Robinson spoke about his experience of being raised in a disadvantaged neighborhood.

“According to my zip code growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, it is but for the grace of God I am here before you as interim president of Florida A&M University speaking to you about overcoming challenges.”

Superintendent Rocky Hanna recalled the first Best & Brightest ceremony, held in the Leon High School auditorium when he was principal there. He expressed delight at how much the program has grown.

“As a principal, I always circled this date on my calendar and waited in much anticipation for us to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of each senior class,” he said. “And I can assure you, all your principals are down here right now with their pens and pencils getting ready to mark off the winners so they can celebrate tomorrow.”

Raucous applause followed each category winner’s announcement, and a number of the winners gave a short interview, which was displayed in the auditorium’s projector screens.

One of them was Craig Mitchell, winner of the business category.

Mitchell, in addition to being a youth tour representative with Talquin Electric, started his own nonprofit organization that mentors middle school students.

“We live in a world where fame and money are so important,” he said. “But what is fame and money when you have families still struggling, what is fame and money when you have communities still suffering?

“Community service taught me to always be humble and grateful and keep a pure passion. Because fame and money are going to run out, but the impact you make on people will never fade.”

Contact Ryan Dailey at

A full list of the winners, runner ups and honorable mentions:


Winner: Alexis Campbell, Home School
Runner Up: Abigail Perkins, Maclay School
Honorable Mention: Jay Wenhold, Lincoln High School 


Winner: Kelley Breeden, Florida State University School
Runner Up: Morgan Ayers, Chiles High School
Honorable Mention: Johnny Grace, Lincoln High School


Winner: Craig Mitchell, Leon High School
Runner Up: James Maguire Jr., Chiles High School
Honorable Mention: Kathleen Kelly, John Paul II Catholic School 


Winner: Rachel Rumana, Maclay School
Runner Up: Robert Skrob, Leon High School
Honorable Mention: Emily Fiorini, Florida State University School

Drama & Performing Arts

Winner: Jordyn Berrian, Leon High School
Runner Up: Katherine Jones, Lincoln High School
Honorable Mention: Sarah Barton, Rickards High School

English & Language Arts

Winner: Leteme Ashebo, Leon High School
Runner Up: Quinlan Mewborne, Chiles High School
Honorable Mention: Rachel Corry, Lincoln High School

Foreign Language

Winner: Delaney Kaklamanos, John Paul II Catholic School
Runner Up: Erin Mulrooney, Community Christian School
Honorable Mention: Joseph McCann II, Maclay School 


Winner: Caleb Riggins, Florida State University School
Runner Up: Julia Chodyla, Leon High School
Honorable Mention: Saniya Pradhan, Rickards High School


Winner: Nia Close, Lincoln High School
Runner Up: Rida Darji, Rickards High School
Honorable Mention: Robyn Seniors, Chiles High School 


Winner: James Baggett, Maclay School
Runner Up: Emily LeHeup, Florida State University School
Honorable Mention: Kyle Chen, Rickards High School 


Winner: Samantha Crawford, Lincoln High School
Runner Up: Roehl-Dean Reyes, Rickards High School
Honorable Mention: Hannah 
Prasse, Leon High School

Public Speaking

Winner: Jean-Paul Recht, Lincoln High School
Runner Up: Micah Joyner, Chiles High School
Honorable Mention: James Williams III, John Paul II Catholic School

Science & Health

Winner: Will Rogers, Leon High School
Runner Up: Aditya Hota, Rickards High School
Honorable Mention: Tiffany Lee, Chiles High School

Social Science

Winner: Cannon Haworth, Leon High School
Runner Up: William Cannard, John Paul II Catholic School
Honorable Mention: Emily Brockmeier, Lincoln High School


Winner: Sanwal Ahmed, Rickards High School
Runner Up: Sophie Nelsen, Lincoln High School
Honorable Mention: Elspeth Suber, Maclay School