The Miami Herald

A special night for South Florida’s newest Silver Knights

One student traveled to India to help children with cerebral palsy and autism.

Another fought her dyslexia and pursued what she loved doing — writing.

A third collected more than 40,000 items including beds and cribs for sick children and their families.

These are only a few of the accomplishments of Broward senior high students recognized Wednesday night at The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald Silver Knight Awards, the Oscars for teens.

“We are here to honor you, the high school seniors, who go above and beyond,” said Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald Publisher David Landsberg to the hundreds of nominees. “Tonight is very special.”

The awards that have been presented by The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald since 1959 in Miami-Dade and 1984 in Broward.

In front of their family and friends, 15 Broward and 15 Miami-Dade high achievers, clad in evening gowns and suits, were recognized in categories from art to world languages for their impressive community service projects and their stellar academic achievements.

Each winner receives $2,000, a Silver Knight statuette, a medallion and a round-trip ticket from American Airlines. The ceremony also honors three honorable mentions from each county in every category. They each received $500 and an engraved plaque. Their names and photos will be published in the Sunday edition of The Miami Herald.

When Anna Joykutty, a senior at American Heritage in Plantation, heard her name called as the winner in the General Scholarship category, she jumped out of her chair.

“This is amazing,’’ Anna told the audience.

After hearing about a program in India to help children with cerebral palsy and autism, Anna spent her summers visiting the school and raised $3,500 by setting up a henna tattoo booth at Plantation’s multicultural fair to help treat the children.

“I'm just so happy that I was able to help those kids,” said Anna, who is also president of the National Honor Society, an AP Scholar with Distinction and the recipient of the faculty’s Outstanding Student Award for three years.

The winner for business, Benjamin Gajus, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, saw a need at the Children’s Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Fort Lauderdale. He collected 40,000 items, including beds, cribs and household items.

“I know I worked hard but I couldn't believe how much everyone has accomplished,’’ said Benjamin, as he clung to his award.

Benjamin also plays varsity football, plays piano, helped rebuild a parsonage and is an Eagle Scout.

The path to getting the coveted statuette begins with a teacher’s nomination. The winners are then chosen by a panel of judges. Students who have won Silver Knights over the years have gone to become engineers, scientists and even won an Oscar.

After hearing all of the accomplishments of other teens, Fort Lauderdale High School senior Tatiana Becker said couldn't believe she won the drama award.

As the announcer was describing the winner, Tatiana said she leaned over to the girl next to her. “I think that's me but it can't be,” Tatiana said.

A self-proclaimed drama lover, Tatiana couldn’t bear to see the drama program cut from her school because of budget constraints. She and her classmates started United Students for the Arts, creating a website, designing T-shirts and rallying 4,000 Facebook supporters.

And though the program was saved, Tatiana continued to raise money to promote the arts.

For Gabrielle Strauss, winning the award in journalism is her way of proving anyone can do anything if they set their mind to it.

Gabrielle, who is also a member of the Quill and Scroll National Journalism Honor Society, struggles with dyslexia, but didn’t let her disability get in the way of her passion for writing. She begged her teacher to let her join the yearbook staff and became senior editor. She then used her skills to start a yearbook at The Victory Center, which assists and educates children with autism.

“This means the world me,” said the American Heritage senior, her hands shaking with excitement. “I worked so hard for this.”

The Silver Knights ceremony will be broadcast at 7 p.m. June 1 and June 14 on WLRN-PBS 17; 10 a.m. June 19 on WBFS-33; and noon July 3 on WFOR-CBS 4.




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