Meet the valedictorians
Megan Barkdull used to spend hours in parking lots in Orlando’s Little Vietnam, looking for artistic inspiration from the back of old buildings. Now she’s thinking of being a surgeon. Her 5.25 grade point average probably won’t hurt her chances.
The fact that she helped teach kids in Eatonville to swim won’t hurt either. It certainly taught her a little about herself.
“I’m a lot better at handling chaos than I thought I was,” she said. Her friends jokingly (or not) voted her most likely to take over the world.
Megan is one of 11 super students exiting Winter Park High School as valedictorian this year. Most schools have at least one of them — the top-ranked student in the school — but not the Wildcats. Based on academic ability (more than two dozen exceeded a 5.0 GPA in the school) combined with extra-curriculars and community service, these stellar students get the big V next to their names, and casually mention aspirations of neurosurgery careers to come.
Nhan “Nicky” Trieu falls into that category. The spritely but demurring National Honor Society president will end up at the University of Florida in the fall, studying bioscience with hopes of becoming a globetrotting missionary doctor.
She helped organize a tutoring program at school, and also learned who she wanted to be.
“There was a point where I realized how much I changed,” she said of her last four years. A few years from now she might be in Los Angeles, then maybe volunteering in Cambodia or Africa. In the meantime, she’ll always have her violin.
Tanuj Badwal can rock out on a guitar or surprise you with his singing voice, but he really wants to work with nanotechnology. His favorite memory from school? A very well engineered water balloon launcher firing watery projectiles at his teacher.
He doesn’t even know what you’d call the field he wants to go into. He just wants to be engineering tiny things. He says he stopped playing with Legos a long time ago, but never stopped liking the idea of building something, especially if it’s unlike anything anyone has ever seen.
He wishes more kids were involved in math and science. If he had a backup plan, it’d be teaching kids how the cold mechanical stuff can be fun. Thinking of the moments that made him really love science, he said that helped him realize what he should be doing in life.
“It’d be really cool to get them to do that too,” he said.
With a stratospheric 5.36 GPA, Deborah Leedy didn’t need much help getting into college, but she’s still wondering what she’s going to be later. It could be a French teacher or an artist. When she wasn’t dancing ballet she helped kids learn to swim. In the big pool of life, she’s ready for anything.
“I like to try everything,” she said. “I want to do everything.”
The pool was never far from Allison Lindsey, who hopes to keep swimming when she lands in the purposefully out of the way Pfeiffer University in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
“I like being in the water,” Allison said. “It gives me time to think, or not think.”
Maybe she’ll take one last ride down a mountain in her soapbox derby racer. The throwback sport that her dad introduced her to still holds a place in the family garage. Always a competitor and affably confident, she’s ready for the challenge that’s ahead on the way to being a CSI-style forensics researcher.
“I’m going to have to climb the ladder,” she said. “And I’m completely fine with that.”
Talk to Bobby Frantz and you might think he was already at the top of that ladder. The casually confident weightlifter already knows what he’s going to be when he’s done with college: an orthopedic surgeon.
As president of the Science Honor Society, a lifeguard at the YMCA and a volunteer at First United Methodist Church, he’s kept his schedule full. The would-be doctor is heading to the University of Georgia to learn how to put people back together again. His inspiration: his own injuries.
“When you’re in the doctor’s office enough times, you learn things,” he said.
He’ll never forget when he went on a volunteer trip to Costa Rica and his whole world was put in perspective staring at the floor of a muddy hut that housed a family of a dozen people.
“It made me realize how lucky I am,” he said. “They don’t have concrete floors. I’m thinking about cars and whatnot.”
He helped give the family a solid foundation before he came home.
Jack Reckmeyer’s new home will be under the California sun for the next four to eight years. He’s heading to the University of Southern California.
“I have wanted to be a physician ever since I can remember,” Jack said. His specialty? Orthopedic surgeon. Like Bobby, his passion comes from experience. A tennis injury that sidelined a career made him want to learn how to rebuild lives.
That doesn’t mean he didn’t stop chasing his dreams on the court. Battling back from a devastating knee injury, he helped the Winter Park boys tennis team make school history this month. In doubles, he won every match at the state tournament.
“I got a little taste of what I used to have,” he said.
Patrick Burns has his eyes on a very exclusive club a few years in the future; not that being an Eagle Scout doesn’t already put him in lofty company. He wants to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
The soft-spoken soon-to-be University of Florida industrial engineering student can carry a tune, working with the Winter Park Chorus, Park Singers, Naughty Scotty acapella group and the Florida All-State Choir.
He also loves debating. His hypothetical claim-to-fame in the class of ’14? Most likely to win an argument.
“I like debating,” he said. “It’s a good skill to have. It can get people upset, but can help you agree on things.”
Katie Sproles knows how to give a speech or two. She was class treasurer for three straight years, campaigning her way into the student body president slot for her senior year. Maybe she was born to do it.
“I think being the oldest of five kids really impacted me a lot,” she said. “I really like being a leader in my family.”
Katie’s just fine with becoming an engineer in a largely male-dominated field. She hopes to use those skills to engineer a way to help the underprivileged. She’ll find out what she wants to specialize in after she starts at the University of Florida in the fall.
“I don’t know where I want to be yet,” she said. “I’d really like to work for Google. I like doing the impossible.”
Danielle Flanagan wants to be secretary general of the United Nations.
“That would be ideal,” she said.
After years on the Model United Nations, Student Government, UNICEF Club, Beta Club and soccer and tennis teams, she’s set to take on the world. She’ll start at the University of Florida, though Harvard and Georgetown are still on her radar.
On her way through college she hopes that she can change the world. She already started at Winter Park with her Beta Club “Betafication” project that’s transformed an otherwise empty grass and bark courtyard into a sanctuary for students to hang out in a natural setting tucked away in an alcove on campus.
“I actually put my print on Winter Park High School,” she said. “That’s cool.”
Teddy Jungreis was taking a walk through Stanford in the San Francisco Bay area when the Observer stopped by Winter Park High School. He’s going to double major in economics, and management science and engineering.
He’s been a class president, varsity lacrosse player and pianist for the last 12 years. His dream job? Remarkably clear.
“I want to become a serial entrepreneur who revolutionizes the world and disrupts multiple industries,” he wrote. Whether that includes having a secret lair is anyone’s guess.