One high-school student runs marathons and triathlons to raise money for disabled children like himself. He was born blind and with Tourette’s Syndrome.
Another thrives on his role as angel for an elementary school and a medical center for chronically ill and poor children. And a third launched a program through Broward County libraries to help immigrants study to become U.S. citizens.
These are among the winners of the prestigious Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald Silver Knight awards, presented Thursday night in Miami.
“This is clearly one of the top recognition programs in the entire country,’’ said David Landsberg, president and publisher of the Miami Herald Media Company. “It has recognized generations of winners who have gone on to be leaders and successful business people across the country. We’re especially pleased to be able to recognize both academic achievement and the incredible commitment these students have shown to our community. The Miami Herald Media Company is proud to continue this incredible tradition.’’
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For more than a generation, The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald newspapers have bestowed Silver Knight awards upon the region’s top high-school seniors.
Past recipients include Jeff Bezos, a Palmetto High alumnus who founded Amazon.com, and Ted Hendricks, who graduated from Hialeah High and was later named to the National Football League Hall of Fame.
Public and private schools can nominate students in categories ranging from arts to vocational studies. A panel of judges selects the winners. The awards are presented at an Oscar-like ceremony at the James L. Knight Center.
Each winner takes home a glittering Silver Knight statuette, a medallion, $2,000 and two round-trip tickets from American Airlines. Three honorable mentions in each category are awarded $500 and an engraved plaque.
This year was among the most competitive on record. The number of nominees from Miami-Dade and Broward topped 700, and their résumés raised the bar to a new level.
Take Jacob Goldberg, the winner for athletics.
A marathon runner and triathlete, Goldberg, 18, was born legally blind and with Tourette’s Syndrome. But rather than be sidelined by his disability, the Pine Crest School student uses guides to compete in races that have raised more than $50,000 for Together We See, the foundation he and his sister, Rachael, started in 2007 to send disabled kids and their siblings to camp.
He organized a 5K fundraiser and barbecue to sustain the foundation after he leaves for Cambridge, Mass., to attend Harvard College.
“I’m lucky for what I do have: my family, my sport,’’ Goldberg said after receiving his award. “The idea of being commended for my work makes me want to continue helping others.’’
Alexsandra Bello of West Broward High School took top honors for mathematics. She has led her school’s math honors society for two years — helping to increase membership and to start an after-school tutoring program.
Bello also has volunteered to help children with disabilities since 2007 when she joined the West Pembroke Pines Miracle League as a buddy, helping kids with mental and physical challenges to play baseball. She helped organize games, match volunteers with players, and raised more than $5,000 to buy new uniforms, equipment and trophies.
The most rewarding part of her volunteering, Bello said, is to see fellow students and children succeed at something they previously found difficult, whether it’s math or baseball.
“It was an honor to be recognized here,’’ said Bello, who aspires to be a math teacher. “But that’s the best award.’’
As in previous years, Thursday’s ceremony was a grand affair.
The honorees dressed to impress in formal gowns and suits. Family members waited anxiously to hear the winners’ names called.
When Joshua Brett Venkataraman was named the winner for drama, the St. Thomas Aquinas High School student strode confidently up to the stage to receive his statuette.
“Coming into this, I told myself it wasn’t important if I win. It’s more important what I’d done for the kids,’’ said Venkataraman, who has worked tirelessly to collect children’s books, printers and computers for a performing arts magnet school, Deerfield Park Elementary, where many students are underprivileged.
Venkataraman, 18, also has collected and delivered 5,000 books and hundreds of toys and clothes to the Children’s Diagnostic & Treatment Center, which treats chronically ill and poor children.
He is headed to the University of Florida in the fall.