These are the top 2018 high school grads at Miami-Dade private schools

Monroe County schools improved their overall graduation rate by 3.1 percent and slightly exceeded the state’s rate this past year.
Monroe County schools improved their overall graduation rate by 3.1 percent and slightly exceeded the state’s rate this past year. AP file

The road to a high school diploma is paved with both sacrifices and shining moments. For a select few private school students, the grand prize is the title of valedictorian or salutatorian, reserved for the students with the highest grade point averages in their graduating classes.

The key to success, according to Riviera Preparatory School’s 2018 valedictorian, Thiago Esslinger, is time management.

“My greatest friend was Google Calendar,” he said.

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Thiago Esslinger, Valedictorian, Riviera Preparatory School

Esslinger is headed to the Georgia Institute of Technology to study biochemistry with a minor in music. He began playing the violin at age 8 while living in Switzerland and later taught himself to play the piano. In ninth grade, he fell in love with the viola’s “large, deeper sound,” performing at music festivals around the world.

He participated in his school’s biomedical engineering program and Health Occupation Students of America, working on projects to find solutions to widespread diseases and shadowing doctors at work.

“I’d like to study genetics,” Esslinger said. “So much of our genome is a mystery. We don’t really know how it works. If we understood it, we could help more people.”

Interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers is growing rapidly and so is diversity in those fields.

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Dibyanshi Mishrra, Salutatorian, Riviera Preparatory School

Riviera’s salutatorian, Dibyanshi Mishrra, will be attending the University of Miami (UM) to major in biology. She has been accepted into UM’s Foote Fellows Honors Program, the Advanced Program for Integrated Science and Math (PRISM) and Health Professions Mentoring Program (HPM).

At Riviera, she was on the varsity swim team and plays the piano since age 6.

“Ultimately, I want to become a neurosurgeon and open my own medical practice,” Mishrra said.

Rachel Thomas, Miami Country Day School salutatorian, is going to the University of Pennsylvania to major in biological basis of behavior and also wants to become a surgeon.

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Rachel Thomas, Salutatorian, Miami Country Day School

When some people learn she’s good at math and science, they look at her surprised because she’s a girl.

“Never let yourself or other people make you feel like you can’t do something,” Thomas said.

Inspired by a cousin’s death from melanoma at age 40, Thomas has raised thousands of dollars for the Melanoma Research Foundation by making and selling bracelets. She also speaks at schools and events about skin cancer prevention.

The calling to help others and be socially responsible is a defining characteristic of these graduates.

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Ryan Finvarb, Valedictorian, Miami Country Day School

Miami Country Day School’s valedictorian, Ryan Finvarb, helped organize a vigil for the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting.

Finvarb is a math and analytics wiz with an interest in photography who is majoring in business at the University of Pennsylvania. His goal is to become an entrepreneur and create something that will provide financial stability and make an impact in society.

“If you understand there is something wrong in society, you have an obligation to do something about it,” Finvarb said. “My generation will not fall into the shadows.”

Meet some of the top scholars for 2018 (Miami-Dade Public Schools do not name valedictorians or salutatorians.):

Allison Academy

Valedictorian: Yehuda Solomon


College: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Valedictorian: Jose Alonso


College: Miami-Dade College

Salutatorian: Sofia Toro Tercero


College: Florida International University

Archbishop Coleman Carroll High School

Valedictorian: Ryan Cruz

GPA: 5.55

College: Florida International University

Salutatorian: Alejandro Camacho

GPA: 5.17

College: Florida International University

Belen Jesuit Preparatory School

Valedictorian: Andres Dones

GPA: 5.46

College: Vanderbilt University

Salutatorian: Jorge Moscoso

GPA: 5.45

College: University of Chicago

Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart

Co-Valedictorian: Gabriela Blanco


College: University of Southern California

Co-Valedictorian: Nathalie Fuentes


College: Northeastern University

Christopher Columbus High School

Valedictorian: Stefan Hengartner

GPA: 5.60

College: University of Florida’s Honors College

Salutatorian: Diego Ramos

GPA: 5.41

College: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Gulliver Schools

Valedictorian: Luis Martinez

GPA: 5.9

College: Vanderbilt University

Co-Salutatorian: Agustin Garcia

GPA: 5.8

College: University of Pennsylvania

Co-Salutatorian: Amanda Vera

GPA: 5.8

College: Princeton University

Hebrew Academy (RASG)

Valedictorian: Caleb Katz


College: University of Southern California

Salutatorian: Rina Reich


College: S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Stern College for Women

Miami Country Day School

Valedictorian: Ryan Finvarb

GPA: 4.79

College: University of Pennsylvania

Salutatorian: Rachel Thomas

GPA: 4.72

College: University of Pennsylvania

Monsignor Edward Pace High School

Co-Summa Cume Laude: Lazaro Alfonso Jr.

GPA: 5.54

College: Florida International University

Co-Summa Cume Laude: Grace Li

GPA: 5.49

College: Loyola University Maryland

Co-Summa Cume Laude: Aleisha Fleurantine

GPA: 5.29

College: Florida State University

Our Lady of Lourdes Academy

Valedictorian: Claudia Maria Pichardo Miyar

GPA: 5.26

College: University of Pennsylvania

Salutatorian: Evely Alexis Forte

GPA: 5.22

College: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Palmer Trinity School

Co-Valedictorian: Chris Hudson Verde


College: Columbia University

Co-Valedictorian: Miguel Rothe


College: Tufts University

Salutatorian: Isabella Swift


College: Brandeis University

Ransom Everglades School

Valedictorian: Jorge Zreik


College: Princeton University

Salutatorian: Daniel Freedline


College: Yale University

Riviera Preparatory School

Valedictorian: Thiago Esslinger

GPA: 5.25

College: Georgia Institute of Technology

Salutatorian: Dibyanshi Mishrra

GPA: 5.18

College: University of Miami

Scheck Hillel Community School

Valedictorian: Nathalie Fuhrman

GPA: 4.71

College: Northwestern University, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Salutatorian: Simi Serfati

GPA: 4.57

College: University of Pennsylvania, School of Engineering and Applied Science

St. Brendan High School

Valedictorian: Sophia Acosta

GPA: 5.41

College: Vanderbilt University

Salutatorian: Valentina Espinoza

GPA: 5.40

College: University of Notre Dame

Westwood Christian School

Valedictorian: Erika Lopez

GPA: 4.3

College: Admitted to the University of South Florida and Florida International University

Salutatorian: Gabriella Padilla

GPA: 4.2

College: Florida International University Honors College