BRADENTON -- As the Manatee High School Jazz Band trumpeted festive tunes, 175 high school seniors squirmed backstage Thursday inside the Neel Performing Arts Center.
It was all on the line.
Countywide recognition for four years of strenuous studying and long hours devoted to community service. A $1,500 cash reward to pay for part of college. And another chance to beef up resumes.
The 37th Annual Golden Herald Awards, which honor high school seniors for commitment to school and community, was about to begin.
"These students are all here because of their academic excellence and there's very little difference between all 175 students," said Bob Turner, president and publisher of the Bradenton Herald. "What we really want to honor here today is what those students have given back."
After a pretty rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" by Golden Herald nominee Rasiel Freija, honorable mentions were given out to one nominee in each of 15 categories.
Then, Bay News 9 reporter Summer Smith and Kevin DiLallo, CEO of Manatee Memorial Hospital, doled out the final awards. Each recipient was awarded the cash prize and a commemorative medal and plaque.
Winners were selected after applications and personal interviews with community members, including employees of local businesses such as Blake Medical Center, Michael Saunders & Co. and the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
Gianna Traylor of Braden River High School won the Golden Herald Award for social science. She spent countless hours last year working with the Manatee County Youth Commission to put together programs to curb teen pregnancy, drug use and bullying. Judges described her as a "true renaissance woman."
"I didn't expect to win," Traylor said after the ceremony. She'll put her prize money toward criminology and psychology degrees at Florida State University this fall.
Southeast High School won the most Golden Heralds for the second consecutive year with five students taking prizes for English and literature, journalism, mathematics, music, and speech and drama categories. Rebecca O'Brien, Iris Lopez, Alexander Strzalkowski, Gillian Palino and Kevin Weger claimed those awards, respectively.
Kelsey Lutzi of Braden River High School earned the Golden Herald for art.
"She understand how the power of art can change the community and she encourages students in the school to use their art to make a difference," DiLallo said.
Bradenton Christian School's Abbie James took the athletics honor.
Kory Kinder of Palmetto High School took the Golden Herald for business.
Ezekiel Hillery of Palmetto High School was awarded the citizenship honor for his part in starting a YMCA program to cut down on gang violence in Bradenton.
Lakewood Ranch High School had two winners: Nathan Miller, who served on a church trip to Costa Rica, for computers and technology; and Lindsay Wheeler, an intern for Rep. Vern Buchanan, for science.
Jasmine Girgis of Bradenton Christian School was honored for foreign language. She speaks Arabic, French, Spanish and English.
Palmetto High School took another award when Kathleen McClure won general scholarship.
The last Golden Herald went to Rebecca Keefer of Palmetto High School for vocational. She has won numerous Future Farmers of America awards, including the Florida FFA state degree for racking up more than 250 hours of community service.
The ceremony was taped by NETV and will be aired again Sunday.
Sabrina Rocco, Herald Reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow @sabrinarocco on Twitter.