Manatee’s outstanding high school seniors honored at 2019 Golden Herald Awards

A student overcame his injuries to become the varsity wrestling captain at Manatee High School, and to continue his tireless volunteering throughout Florida. Another student excelled in school while also supporting veterans and children with disabilities.

Thousands of accomplished men and women graduate from high schools in Manatee County every year, but a select few are recognized for their extraordinary service to the community.

The 42nd annual Golden Herald Awards recognized 118 students from nearly a dozen public and private schools on Wednesday night. Started by the Bradenton Herald in 1978, the event has since honored more than 5,000 high school seniors.

Vernon DeSear, vice president of Manatee Memorial Hospital, continued more than three decades of involvement with the event, serving as the master of ceremonies on Wednesday.

“Nominees, your dedication of countless hours in serving your school and community is a true example of leadership, and each of you serves as a role model for your peers and those that follow,” he said.

Out of all the nominees, one received a Golden Herald and one received an honorable mention in each of the 16 categories, including mathematics, art, citizenship, athletics and technology. Several event sponsors presented the awards.

The first Golden Herald winner was Hailey Best, a Southeast High School student who won in the art category. Along with being a member of the National Art Honor Society for years, she volunteered for Keep Manatee Beautiful, Realize Bradenton and Palmetto Historical Park.

She also managed to earn a pilot’s license and to compete on a varsity swim team, all while earning a 4.1 grade-point average — landing among the top 11 percent in her senior class.

“Her service work throughout the community is bountiful, and she has a remarkable ability to juggle academics, sports and volunteering,” said Kevin DiLallo, chief executive officer of Manatee Memorial.

The award for citizenship was lovingly named after Bob Bartz, a former Manatee Chamber of Commerce director and a tireless public servant who passed away in 2017.

“Our winner in citizenship was described by the judges as reliable, humble, unselfish, mighty, passionate, dedicated, loving and enthusiastic,” said Jackie Barron, public affairs manager for Mosaic Company.

“These are all qualities that our winner and Bob Bartz have in common,” she continued.

The award went to Ahmad Ibsais, a senior at Braden River High School and a Palestinian refugee. He worked with others to establish a network of more than 100 military veterans in Manatee and Sarasota counties, sharing their struggles with thousands of people in the community.

Ibsais worked with Operation Troop Support and the Bay Pines VA. He also volunteered at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, and he belonged to at least five school organizations, including Model United Nations and the National Honor Society.

“Out of my struggle and immigrating to America from what is still an occupied war zone today, I have a dream to passionately work towards improving the lives of others,” Ibsais wrote in his application. “From that passion came a focused effort towards the veteran population.”

A final Golden Herald — the 16th on Wednesday night — went to Hannah Cavis, a senior at Manatee High School, and this year’s winner in the vocational category.

She brought the Volunteens program to Manatee Memorial, offering patients a listening ear and, hopefully, a smoother recovery. Cavis also served as the president of her senior class, and she was the recipient of several past awards, including some for perfect attendance.

“As a teen volunteer, she saw how comforted patients were in the hospital to have a young person just listen to them,” Barron said.

Nearly 50 volunteer judges decided who would receive a Golden Herald (accompanied by $1,500) and an honorable mention (accompanied by $300). The Manatee High School Jazz Band also joined Wednesday’s ceremony, entertaining guests for the 29th consecutive year.

“We have all been encouraged tonight by the choices of these amazing young men and women,” Barron concluded.

Golden Herald recipients


Winner: Hailey Best, Southeast High School.

Honorable mention: Corinna Myers, Manatee High School.


Winner: Jackson Beyer, Manatee High School.

Honorable mention: Ashlyn Gardner, Palmetto High School.


Winner: Allison Dempsey, Braden River High School.

Honorable mention: Nathan Walters, Southeast High School.


Winner: Ahmad Ibsais, Braden River High School.

Honorable mention: Lilyanne Pepe, Palmetto High School.

Computer & Technology

Winner: Tyler Reasoner, Southeast High School.

Honorable mention: Joel Alvarez, Palmetto High School.


Winner: Kaitlyn Marer, Lakewood Ranch High School.

Honorable mention: Darialy Alvarez, Bayshore High School

English & Literature

Winner: Alana Kelly, Braden River High School.

Honorable mention: Emely Mendez, Southeast High School.

Foreign Language

Winner: Odalyz Morfin, Southeast High School.

Honorable mention: Winona Nasser, Braden River High School.

General Scholarship

Winner: Nicholas Anderson, Braden River High School.

Honorable mention: Mackenzie Lang, Palmetto High School.


Winner: Mina Quesen, Braden River High School

Honorable mention: Victoria Llerenas, Palmetto High School.


Winner: Cassandra Atzrodt, Southeast High School.

Honorable mention: Abigail Klaben, Braden River High School


Winner: Hannah Brady, Braden River High School.

Honorable mention: Keriann Lindberg, Manatee High School.


Winner: Karissa Bolle, Braden River High School.

Honorable mention: Hannah Arduini, Braden River High School.

Social Science

Winner: Kalli Dain, Braden River High School.

Honorable mention: Catelaine Laguerre, Southeast High School.


Winner: Noah Henry, Lakewood Ranch High School.

Honorable mention: Mia Johnson, Manatee High School.


Winner: Hannah Cavis, Manatee High School.

Honorable mention: Darron Mayes Jr., Southeast High School.