On Thursday night, 742 seniors nominated from 115 schools across South Florida will make their way to the James L. Knight Center ready for the red carpet.
Their résumés are remarkable — starting nonprofits to tackle social injustices, performing on the athletic field and arts stage, and earning academic accolades that include Honor Society inductees, National Merit finalists and AP Scholars.
They’ll anxiously await whether they will be one of the 30 winners — 15 in Miami-Dade, 15 in Broward — who will take home a coveted Silver Knight statue, $2,000 and 25,000 American Airlines Advantage miles. An additional 90 — 45 in each county — will be named Honorable Mentions and receive a plaque and $500.
They will join an impressive list of past Silver Knight winners. Among the previous recipients over the program’s 60-year history: Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon (Science, Palmetto High, 1982); Bill Conti, the composer who scored the music for “Rocky,” among other films (Music, North Miami High, 1959); artist Xavier Cortada (Vocational Tech, Miami High, 1982); and Frances Dee Cook, the former ambassador to Burundi, Cameroon and Oman (Social Science, South Dade High, 1963).
Behind each nominee, there’s been an adviser, coordinator or selfless teacher proofreading their essays, coaching them before their interviews and shepherding them through the lengthy process. Some have shaped dozens. Others were winners or honorable mentions themselves.
At 85, Jean Rosenfield may be the oldest and longest-serving coordinator in the history of the award. She can’t even remember how long she’s been at it.
“She was one of those people who hammered in the concept of why this was important,” said Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales, who won a Silver Knight for General Scholarship at Miami Beach High in 1980 under Rosenfield. “She’s been a machine.”
After she retired from 33 years in the classroom, the bulk of that time spent at Beach High, she went back to work in 2000 at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High near Aventura — sometimes without pay — to help coordinate awards for students, including Silver Knights. She and activities director Michelle Russell have had 40 winners and 65 honorable mentions during their 18-year tenure at Krop.
She won’t share her secret recipe, but “I think sincerity is the most important thing.”
Rosenfield has no plans to retire. She already has her eye on future nominees: “Right now, I could tell you what ninth-graders we have. If I’m still alive, we’ll use them in three years.”
In Fort Lauderdale, St. Thomas Aquinas High is a Silver Knight heavyweight, often taking home multiple awards. Last year, it garnered four of the 15, the top winner in Broward.
“It’s really a team effort,” said coordinator Karen Krugman. “We use the energy and expertise of many on our faculty and staff by beginning the process early, recruiting school-wide all the time. We try to spot potential Silver Knight nominees long before students’ senior year.”
In Miami Gardens, Carol City High has a major advantage: The school’s coordinators are Alexandria Martin and Nichole Dino, alumni and past Silver Knight nominees. Martin won an honorable mention in the vocational technical category in 1999.
“We try to think as our students would think, as our nominees would think to really reach them and get them to understand the magnitude of what they’re doing,” Martin said. “Sometimes, students don’t understand how long their reach is.”
Since they took over as coordinators in 2007, Carol City has garnered awards for 11 winners and 21 honorable mentions.
“I feel like we represent inner city schools and the potential that sometimes goes untapped in those schools,” Martin said. “We try to remind the students that it doesn’t matter about your socioeconomic situation or your area code or your ZIP Code. It’s about what you see yourself being in the future and how you want to change the community in which you’re living in.”
This year, the school has just one nominee, a student competing in the Speech category. Martin will be there to cheer her on.
“She wouldn’t rep Miami Carol City if we didn’t think she was worthy to be there,” she said.
Sampling of Past Silver Knight Winners
Over the past 60 years — the first ceremony was in 1959 — more than 20,000 high school seniors have been nominated for Silver Knight Awards. Of those, 1,400 have won.
Today, many Silver Knight honorees are teachers, lawyers, judges, artists, musicians, doctors, city officials, political leaders and business executives. We caught up with a few of them to see how the award has impacted their lives.
Music, 2007, Killian High
JeriLyn Stone was stressed, burning out from her high-stress job as a media company vice president in New York.
Then last November, she spotted Jeff Bezos at an event in Los Angeles. The two had something in common — they were both Silver Knight winners, and he was the keynote speaker at the ceremony when she won in 2007.
He asked her a question: Did she still play music?
Hardly. Years had passed since Stone, a clarinetist, won for teaching music lessons to students in underprivileged communities.
Stone left New York and came home to be the senior product manager at Modern OM, a meditation center in Wynwood.
“That little silver statue, it’s always a reminder of where my passion in life lies,” said Stone, 29.
General Scholarship, 1980, Miami Beach High
Jimmy Morales’ Silver Knight statue has been everywhere.
Harvard Law School, Washington, Wall Street, on the campaign trail and now facing Lincoln Road in his office as Miami Beach city manager.
When at Beach High, Morales began an “adopt a senior” program for students to befriend senior citizens on Miami Beach and created a curriculum introducing American culture to newly arrived Haitians at the Miami Edison adult education program.
“When I see the projects kids do today, I know I could never win today,” he says.
Ernesto Freyre III
Speech, 1986, Christopher Columbus High
Despite being born deaf, Ernesto Freyre III began learning how to speak at age 2 from his mother. Lessons on specific pronunciations began at age 5.
Freyre wanted to help others just like him, so he launched a summer camp to teach independent skills to others who were deaf. His efforts led him to win the Silver Knight.
“Almost all of them are leaders today,” he recalls.
Freyre learned American Sign Language at 20. He now works for a Miami company that translates spoken word to ASL via a computer program.
“I try to open the bridge to communicate,” Freyre said. “It gives equal access to be able to communicate.”
Social Science, 2010, Carol City High
Khadijah Brydson-Van’s heart belongs in public service. It began with collecting school supplies for a local school in Savanna-La-Mar, Jamaica.
“After winning the award, it personally was affirmation that it was OK to fulfill my passion and do what makes me happy,” she said.
Brydson-Van went on to Georgetown University to study government.
After she graduated Cum Laude, Brydson-Van was the national deputy director for Heels for Hillary, a group rallying support among African-American women for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. She is now the political action co-chair for the D.C. chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton in Washington.
She has her sights set on getting engaged at the state and national level, but Brydson-Van still flies home to Miami and helps Silver Knight nominees prepare for their interview.
“At Carol City, it definitely is like a club,” she said. “That’s your family for one or two years that you’re working on your application.”
Drama, 2008, South Broward High
Daniela Roeder has always loved theater, but inspiration struck at swim practice.
She wanted to organize a play for the students of her swim coach, who was also a special education teacher. “The Wizard of Oz” was a smashing success, leading to her Silver Knight.
“The actors who thought they could never memorize their lines, memorized their lines,” Roeder said. “After I graduated, it became part of their yearly curriculum.”
Later, she sat next to a woman on a flight to Chicago who was board president of the Exceptional Theater Company for actors with disabilities. She knew of Roeder's work and discussed working with them.
The timing wasn't right, but later a position at ETC opened up. Today, Roeder is the company’s operations manager.
“I think winning the Silver Knight award, although I didn’t know it back then, opened the door to my forever career and my forever passion.”
Watch It Live
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