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They overcame hardships to win Golden Heralds

BRADENTON — Valerie Jones hugged friends and thanked her daughter’s English teacher as her daughter posed for pictures with 14 other students Thursday night.

Jones, who is an assistant principal at Braden River High, watched her daughter win a Golden Herald award in English and Literature.

The awards, which have been in existence since 1978, recognize area high school senior students for their service to their school and community in different areas.

Each school is allowed to nominate two seniors per category, allowing 30 nominees per school. This year there were a total of 163 nominees in Manatee County.

Proud parents snapped pictures and local high school seniors beamed as the Bradenton Herald awarded Golden Herald awards in 15 categories. The excitement was contagious.

“I’ve got to get this picture. Wait. Wait. Wait,” Jones said, reaching for her cell phone and edging closer to her daughter.

“What’s amazing is she struggled with her health through high school. She has diabetes. This is a huge, huge accomplishment for her,” she said.

Whitney Jones, who scored a perfect score on the written portion of the FCAT, helped tutor other students to take the test. She now hopes to become an English teacher to inspire others.

As Whitney made her way down the stage, exiting with other students, she rushed to her mother to give her a hug.

“For me it’s a collection of everything I’ve done in high school. It was such an amazing moment when it all happened,” she said.

Many students who were nominated overcame personal challenges to be successful.

Carlos Enrique Garcia, a senior at Bayshore, was nominated in the foreign language category.

His parents returned to Mexico when he was in sixth grade. He never finished school that year and moved in with his aunt, Graciela Marines.

When he was supposed to be in eighth grade, he was placed in seventh grade at the request of Marines.

He exceeded school standards and was moved to ninth grade by teachers.

“For someone who didn’t have his parents here to guide him, he exceeded expectations,” Marines said, sitting in the back of the auditorium with other families during the ceremony. “It’s a big honor.”

Garcia can speak up to seven languages.

“I get to know new cultures and get the opportunity to help other people in their own language without them struggling,” he said.

Students were selected for the awards by judges in the community, including employees at the newspaper.

To qualify, students had to hold at least a ‘B’ average in their subject area and use their talents to help others through community service and outreach.

Winners received $2,000, and honorable mentions received $500 for their rewards along with plaques and certificates.

The award ceremony will be re-broadcast on METV at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights in June.

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