One raised more than $60,000 in supplies for orphans in Guatemala.
Another designed an environmentally sustainable aircraft to address pollution.
Two travelled to Ghana to do community service.
The winners of this year’s Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald Silver Knight Awards were nothing short of top achievers. Each boasted a stellar academic record and a standout commitment to helping others globally.
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The teenagers, representing high schools across South Florida, were recognized for their accomplishments Wednesday at the James L. Knight Center in downtown Miami.
“We are here to honor you, the high school seniors, who go above and beyond,” said Miami Herald Media Co. President and Publisher David Landsberg. “Tonight is very special.”
For the past 52 years, The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald newspapers have recognized the region’s top high school seniors. Past winners include rocket scientists, Oscar winners, foreign ambassadors and entrepreneurs.
This year, 15 winners from Miami-Dade and 15 from Broward were selected in categories ranging from science to athletics to drama.
Each received $2,000, a Silver Knight statuette, a medallion and a round-trip ticket from American Airlines.
Three honorable mentions in each category were also named. They each received $500 and an engraved plaque. Their names and photos will be published in the Sunday Neighbors edition of The Miami Herald.
The winners had the kinds of resumes that make college admissions officers salivate.
Jazmin Lightbourn, 18, one of two winners from Miami Carol City Senior High, grew up in a poor family that sometimes had no water or electricity. At one point, they lived on her grandmother’s back porch.
But in middle school, Jazmin discovered her passion for acting. She went on to become a star performer and singer, and started a program called Building Bonds to help at-risk children through the dramatic arts.
“This means so much to me,” said Jazmin, who plans to attend Miami Dade Honors College. “I put my heart and soul into this project.”
The winner for English Literature, Alexandra Garfinkle, struggled to read as a kid. She overcame dyslexia, becoming a top student and leader at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High.
A standout writer and orator, Alexandra was managing editor of her school’s award-winning student newspaper and student advisor to the Miami-Dade School Board. She also tallied hundreds of hours volunteering in Vietnam, Ghana and South Florida.
“It’s confirmation that I did something right,” said Alexandra, 18, who will study philosophy, cinema and media studies, classics and anthropology at the University of Chicago.
More than 700 Miami-Dade and Broward students were nominated by their teachers for the Silver Knight Awards this year.
The winners were chosen by a panel of judges.
The teenagers who walked off the stage with a sparking statuette described the night as “life changing.”
“This is unreal,” said Emma Lipshultz, the winner in athletics. “I still can’t believe it. My mom is going to flip.”
Emma, who attends Ransom Everglades and is Harvard bound, spent a month helping to build a community center in Ghana. She was later inspired to raise enough money for 60 bicycles for the village.
If that weren’t enough, Emma was also an AP Scholar with Distinction, meaning she aced at least five of the college-level tests, and was captain of the varsity soccer team.
She plans to use the prize money to start up a new project to help the kids in Ghana.
Science winner Daniel Brooks, a senior at Miami Palmetto, volunteered as an urgent care assistant at Miami Children’s Hospital. He also worked with a University of Miami professor to research new treatments for breast cancer and designed an aircraft that can decrease pollution.
He’s headed to the University of Pennsylvania next year.
“I’ve dreamed of winning the Silver Knight since 10th grade,” Daniel said. “This is the most amazing feeling.”
Solansh Hernandez, a senior at Southwest Miami High who will attend the University of Florida, dedicated her award to her mother.
Solansh’s mom fled her abusive father at age 12 and grew up in a Guatemalan orphanage. Solansh, an honors student at dance team member, wanted to give back. So she raised $60,000 in supplies for the Misioneros del Camino orphanage.
“My mom is my inspiration, my motivation, my hero,” said Solansh, 18.
“My trophy is for her.”
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.