BRADENTON -- Hard at work at her desk at Manatee High, senior Katty Pierre-Charles was reluctant to leave her economics class for a meeting she had in one of the school's conference rooms.
But she was all smiles when her classmates and parents greeted her with a loud, "Surprise!" as she was named one of five students chosen in the state for Take Stock in Children's "Leaders 4 Life" Fellowship.
Katty submitted a five-minute video for the scholarship and was chosen from more than 75 applicants.
"My video represents the challenges we all go through," said Katty. She mentions in her video the obstacles she faces day-to-day as a diabetic. "It can be hard to manage both my blood sugar and my school life," she acknowledged.
This is the third year that Take Stock in Children has given the award to well-deserving students.
The scholarships total $40,000 and are broken down into $10,000 per year for housing, meal plans, textbooks, transportation and all college-related services. The prize includes a trip to Tallahassee on March 6-7 for the Leadership Summit, where Katty and the other recipients will have the opportunity to visit legislators at the Capitol.
Katty's parents, Enoch and Marie Pierre-Charles, received the call about their daughter's achievement Monday. They admitted it was difficult to not spoil the surprise, as they were both beaming with pride during the festivities Wednesday.
They are originally from Haiti and have lived in the Bradenton area for 18 years. Katty moved here with her parents when she was 8 months old. She is the middle sister of five children. Her younger sister, Ruth, a junior at Manatee High, was also at the ceremony.
"She is a hard worker, and she has inspired me," said Ruth. "She motivates others who observe her."
Katty admitted that it can be difficult at times to grow up managing two cultures, but she says it has had a positive impact on her life. One benefit: She is fluent in Creole.
Katty hopes to pursue a career in medicine. In high school, she has been part of the Manatee High's Medical Academy, a program that introduces students to the concepts of anatomy and the human body.
"She works hard all the time, and we are very happy for her," said Marie Pierre-Charles, who works as a nursing assistant at Casa Mora Rehabilitation and Extended Care Nursing Home. "This scholarship will improve her life."
Katty has accumulated many community service hours while maintaining her GPA. Extracurricular activities include volunteering at Tidewell Hospice, Manatee Memorial and the Substance Abuse Coalition.
Katty's mentor is Judith Leipold, a retired media specialist at Braden River Elementary. She has been working with Katty since her eighth-grade year and meets with her every week to look over her schedule, discuss academic issues, and to provide an environment in which Katty's studies are the primary focus.
"Katty has a wonderful rapport with teachers and students alike. It has been my gift," said Leipold.
Principal Don Sauer also had some heartwarming words to offer at the assembly.
"Katty continues to strive to be a role model for her peers," he said.
Katty is excited to begin college, has been accepted at the University of South Florida in Tampa and is waiting to hear from New College of Florida and St. Leo University.
She has a piece of advice to offer students who are still searching for scholarships.
"Determination is key," she said.
The other Take Stock in Children scholarship winners from around the state are Wade MacDonald in Citrus/Levy counties, Benjamin Carpenter in Hillsborough County, Kaylee Mancillas in DeSoto/Hardee/Highlands counties, and Esther Bennet in Palm Beach County.