2012 Golden Herald winners a special group

MANATEE -- The consensus at the 35th annual Golden Herald Awards on Thursday was that all 15 of the 2012 winners should be loaned out for a week to every American family to rekindle faith in the future.

Even emcee Vernon DeSear felt the special vibe when he closed the show by retweeting an earlier speaker's comment.

"You, parents, did really good in raising these kids," DeSear said, referring to all of the nominees, not just the honorable mention and Golden Herald winners.

While all of this year's nominees seemed exceptionally sweet, bright, energetic, compassionate, funny, motivated and ready to take on the world, the 15 winners did seem to shine.

With their $1,500 scholarships, they hugged each other on stage for 10 minutes after the show while their fans crowded near them to snap their pictures. Someone whispered, "I bet a dozen of these 15 faces will be famous."

They were joined by two other nominees, who won a special random lottery for the new Brad Borsheim Scholarship, a $1,000 prize.

Manatee High School's Riley Dunn, a cross country, track and soccer star, was presented the Golden Herald Award for athletics.

She seemed to epitomize this year's group of winners.

"When she was in first grade, her teacher told me, 'Riley is not a normal child. She's more like an old woman,'" said Riley's mother, Cindi Crowder-Dunn, herself a nominee in 1989.

The comment referred to Riley's seriousness about everything she did, even when she was 6.

When she was a junior, Riley was the last runner when the 'Canes soccer team ran their wind sprint drills.

No way that was going to last, not for Riley.

So, she joined the Manatee cross country team because she had to solve that problem.

"I didn't want to let my soccer team down by being the last runner," Riley said.

By her senior year, Riley, who is heading for Furman University to study law and find a way to help America's children get fit, was the fastest runner on the soccer team.

"She's an amazing kid," said her dad, Jeff Dunn.

"She's the most disciplined and focused person I know. I have to beg her, 'Riley, have more fun.'"

Braden River's Jazlin Gomez, who gave art lessons to youths, won the Golden Herald for art and fellow Pirate Elizabeth Garcia, who is heading for Harvard, earned the Golden Herald for business.

"Elizabeth really wanted one of the other nominees to get it because she has been blessed with so much this year," said Elizabeth's mother, Yessica Garcia. "But she felt if she did get it, it was because God wanted her to have it."

Lakewood Ranch's Jessica Zimmerman, who visited the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz and walked out of it, "for all the ones who couldn't," won in citizenship and Tyler Waid, who started to help raise awareness of a rare disease, won in computer & technology.

Matthew Hardy of Southeast won the Golden Herald for English and literature and Sarah Falls of Braden River took the Golden Herald in foreign language.

The talented Mandy Peebles of Braden River won the Golden Herald for general scholarship and Alexia Fernandez of Braden River won the Golden Herald for journalism.

Bayshore's Kailyn Baker, who can chomp complex problems in algebra and trig like most people eat potato chips, was named mathematics Golden Herald winner and Nicole Froelich of Bradenton Christian, who volunteers in Guatemala, won the music prize.

A stunning line was written in an essay by Santiago Bejarano of Palmetto, the science winner, who plans to go to Duke University and be a doctor.

Said Santiago: "Money will fluctuate and knowledge will fade, but making a positive impact on someone's life will have a ripple effect forever."

History lover Andres Diaz of Braden River won the social science award and Elizabeth Pratt of Manatee won for speech and drama.

Emily Melchior of Braden River took the top prize in vocational.

Kelsey Long of Lakewood Ranch and Claudia Perez of Bayshore won the Brad Borsheim Scholarship.

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