MANATEE -- Martin Vera wasn't quite sure where to go.
After being awarded the 2015 Golden Herald Award in art, the initial first-place award given Thursday night at the Neel Performing Arts Center, the Palmetto High School senior tried to leave the stage and the spotlight.
"We want you to stay. Take a seat," Bay News 9 reporter Summer Smith called out after him as the audience clapped and Vera was ushered back to his seat of honor during the 38th annual Golden Herald awards ceremony.
Fourteen other Manatee County students soon joined Vera on stage as winners in 15 award categories ranging from arts to sports to vocational.
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Each of 15 Herald award winners received a plaque, a medal and $1,500 to help them in college. Honorable-mention students were also named during the ceremony.
"I really wasn't expecting recognition. I wasn't prepared to be on stage," Vera said afterward. "I didn't know what I was supposed to do."
Vera, 18, will study architecture at Hillsborough Community College at Tampa in the fall.
Bradenton Herald President and Publisher Bob Turner thanked all the students for their hard work and described the rigorous application process they went through to be honored.
"Those who won will be those who have given the most back," Turner said.
Students anxiously awaited the news in rooms behind stage prior to the 7 p.m. start. To calm her nerves, Lydia Super, an 18-year-old senior at the State College of Florida Collegiate School, played the piano in a back room. Although other students talked over her music, Super said she found it calming to play.
"It's a stress reliever," she said.
Super ultimately didn't take home a Golden Herald Award, but she said she was happy to be honored among "tough competition."
In the fall, Super will attend the University of Alabama in the hopes of one day becoming a doctor.
"I don't want to waste the brain God gave me," she said.
For the third year in a row, Southeast High School students took home the most first-place finishes with Neha Pathak winning for science, Michael Moran for math, Lacey Sanchez for general scholarship, Josh Karg for foreign language and Megan Stevens for athletics.
A softball and volleyball player, Stevens said she was honored to represent Southeast High School. She and fellow Southeast High School student Patrick Healy said the nomination brought pride to the school.
"It reflects really well on our school," said Healy, a 17-year-old senior at Southeast and athletics nominee.
A member of the National Honor Society, Stevens created the Dollar project, which helps raise money to buy toys and sports equipment for students at Samoset Elementary School.
Stevens will study engineering at Georgia Tech in the fall.
"This is a huge honor," she said. "It's a really respected award in the community."
Healy and Gabrielle Jarmoszko, a senior at Manatee School For the Arts, were awarded $1,000 in honor of Mark Borsheim, a longtime supporter of the Golden Herald awards and former Bradenton Herald employee, after being randomly selected out of a hat.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.