It wasn't enough for Jessica Idiculla to be at the top of her class. Or to be a soccer coach, dance teacher and chemistry and biology tutor.
Jessica, a senior at Cooper City High, also spent hundreds of hours raising money for poor families in India after being struck by the poverty she saw during a visit to the northern part of that country.
"When you're passionate about something, you find the time . . . even if it means staying up an extra hour at night," said Jessica, 18, who plans to one day be chief of surgery at a hospital. Jessica was one of 60 extraordinary high school seniors honored Tuesday night at The Miami Herald-El Nuevo Herald 2007 Silver Knight Awards. She was the winner in the general scholarship category.
Fifteen students, out of 371 nominees, received the top prize, a Silver Knight Award, a medallion and $1,500. The students won for their achievements in categories including art, music, athletics, foreign language, new media and science.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
In addition, 45 students who received honorable mentions were awarded $500 and an engraved plaque.
At the ceremony,at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, honorees got the Academy Awards treatment, from a live band, to the reaction shots shown on a large screen, to the long walk to the stage.
Several winners were inspired by personal challenges.
Laura Teisch, whose mother, Allison Teisch, was diagnosed with cancer five years ago, started a club called Cowboys Against Cancer at her school, Cooper City High. Her mother is now free of cancer and, was excited about Laura's success.
"I think she's probably crying in the stands right now and freaking out more than I am," Laura said.
The athletics Silver Knight winner, Laura wants to one day become a neurosurgeon.
"This is the only way I could pay her back, to try to cure some other mother," she said.
While many students have volunteered for organizations in South Florida, their efforts aren't restricted to South Florida.
Mark Huang, of Cypress Bay High, and Alisa Tao, who attends Nova High, have both collected books to send to students in China.
Christine Pao, of Cooper City High, has taught music to kids with disabilities at a school in Taiwan.
And George Aumoithe Jr., a senior at Deerfield Beach High, has spent weeks in Tunisia helping out at retirement homes, children's hospitals and community centers, and in Japan teaching kids about Florida as part of an exchange program.
"I did not expect this at all," said George, 18. "It kind of validates everything that I've been doing for four years."
He said he wishes that more teens knew about opportunities to experience the world.
"After you come back, you really have a sense of purpose," he said.
John S. Knight, the late publisher of The Miami Herald, started the Silver Knight Awards in Dade County in 1959 to recognize students who were outstanding in both academics and service. The program started in Broward in 1984.
The awards are sponsored by American Airlines and The Blank Family Foundation.
Miami Herald staff writers Nirvi Shah and Ani Martinez contributed to this report.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
Since he was in fifth grade, Brandon has volunteered for the Broward Outreach Center in Hollywood, starting from working in the kitchen to running its Thanksgiving feast for the homeless. This past Thanksgiving, he helped feed and clothe more than 300 people.
He also created a program that collects donations of food for the homeless from restaurants and grocery stores in Hollywood.
Brandon is an avid reader of The Washington Post and The New York Times.
"I have no doubt that Brandon's altruism and political involvement will continue as he pursues his education and his career as an adult," said Sandra S. Coleman, a retired U.S. immigration judge.
* Honorable mentions: Maria Gabriela Alvarez, Cypress Bay; Jasmine Nebhrajani, Miramar; Brittany Stevenson, Northeast.
LAURA FRANCES TEISCH
Laura's world was shaken in eighth grade when her mother was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. As a high school sophomore, she and another student created a cancer awareness club called Cowboys Against Cancer.
Laura coordinates fundraising events like the Relay for Life, Walk for Hope and Hoops for Hope, a three-on-three basketball tournament.
Laura also volunteers at Camp Jenny for underprivileged kids from Atlanta and at Weston's Temple Dor Dorim.
As captain of the Cooper City High volleyball team, Laura was part of the Broward County Athletic Association All-Star game and was nominated for the Wendy's High School Heisman Award.
* Honorable mentions: Harrison P. Grove, Cypress Bay; Nadia Marie Ouhib, Deerfield Beach; Michael Charles Shepherd, Chaminade-Madonna.
For Alisa, books are as vital to life as food and water. So she helped create a project called Books for Hope to ask publishers for donations to provide the kinds of texts she loved growing up to poor schools and villages in China. The effort yielded 1,000 books worth about $10,000.
She has won numerous awards for her writing and earned applause as a dancer and singer in school plays and musicals. She also taught English at a senior citizens college one summer in Shanghai. She plays the violin in the Florida Youth Orchestra. And she was a semifinalist in the 2007 National Merit Scholarship Program.
A top student at her school, Alisa has been accepted to Princeton University.
* Honorable mentions: Elizabeth Chenoweth, Coral Springs Charter; Nicole Greenwood, Pompano Beach; Catherine S. Pao, Cooper City.
Christine's aunt has been hampered by polio since an early age. That inspired her to create a project with her sister to brighten the lives of children with disabilities.
Through Serving the World, Christine has done everything from providing arts and crafts activities for disfigured children to teaching music to children at a special-education school in Taiwan.
Using her award-winning piano talents, she has put on music programs for several years at the Memorial Manor Nursing Home in Pembroke Pines. She also is president of the Florida Federation of Music Clubs, which comprises 1,300 young musicians.
Christine is ranked second in her class along with her sister.
* Honorable mentions: Erica Falk, Douglas; Kate Ashton Gallagher, Pine Crest; Hali Reed Hutchison, St. Thomas Aquinas.
Gregory's investment of time and effort repairing and upgrading machinery and software -- as well as building a pulse jet engine -- propelled Cypress Bay's technical education program to award-winning state recognition.
"Through his hard work and dedication to the class, Gregory has helped make the technical education classes fun and stimulating," said Christopher Ulman, who coordinates the school's Technology Student Association.
The association gave Gregory an award for inspiring his classmates. He has been accepted to the oldest American technological university in the nation, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.
* Honorable mentions: Jency Kochupurackal, Stranahan; Chase Ryant, American Heritage; Chad Evan Sulak, Taravella.
During her first visit to India, Jessica's eyes were opened to the country's immense poverty, a condition she never saw in Indian movies. When she returned, she became involved with an Indian youth group, Kerala Samajam, eventually becoming its president.
Jessica helped raise money for UNICEF India and for families that contacted Kerala Samajam for help, collecting $1,500.
When she's not working on projects to benefit India, Jessica organizes other volunteer work, coaches soccer, teaches dance and entertains patients at a retirement home. She also tutors classmates in chemistry and biology.
She is ranked first in her class of more than 600 students.
* Honorable mentions: Lindsay Hochman, Coral Springs; Sandra Liss, University School; Hasib F. Nasirullah, American Heritage.
JOELLE BRITTANY KRANTZ
When Joelle worked with poor children in an after-school program, she raised money so she could take the kids on field trips and buy them school supplies. She persuaded the organizers that the kids should take swimming lessons. And she created art projects for them to work on.
A gifted artist in her own right, Joelle began a chapter of the National Art Honors Society at her school, had her artwork displayed at the King Tut exhibit at the Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale and has won prizes for her science fair projects.
She has painted several murals for her school and is ranked near the top of her class of more than 600 students.
* Honorable mentions: Andrea Gonzalez, Cypress Bay; Carlos Reyes, Hallandale; Alexandra Spechler, Nova.
REBECCA JOY WALLACE
As a drama enthusiast, Rebecca knows that costumes can be powerful. She wanted to provide them for kids who might not be able to afford Halloween costumes and asked drama clubs to donate.
That was the first project for Helping Hands for Healthy Babies, which Rebecca created last year. The student organization supports the Healthy Mothers-Healthy Babies Coalition of Broward County. Besides collecting costumes, she has organized a project to collect gifts for mothers and a gift-wrapping fundraiser.
The International Thespian Society named her Best Thespian Over-All for her troupe. She also has been honored for acting, costume design, scholarship and technical showcase selection.
* Honorable mentions: Leon Arteche, The Sagemont School; Michelle Jacobs, St. Thomas Aquinas; Keith Oliver, Hallandale.
GEORGE AUMOITHE JR.
George spent a month doing community service projects in Tunisia and seven weeks in Japan but says his work with the Boys and Girls Club in Lauderhill has had the most significant impact.
As the team chairman for Youth Leadership Broward, George organized meetings with children from the club every month to show them examples of young leaders.
A student of French in middle school and Japanese in high school, George was named Exchange Club Student of the Month in April 2006 and hopes to teach in a developing country and eventually become an ambassador.
He is also a Cappie Award-winning actor, a National Achievement Scholar and a recipient of the Kodak Young Leaders Award.
* Honorable mentions: Sarah Grace King, Douglas; Jennifer Lovelace, South Plantation; Benjamin McAfee, Cooper City.
KYLE EDWARD ROBINSON
As a chubby kid, classmates made fun of Kyle. So as a high school student, he created a nutrition and fitness program for the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County.
Kyle provided lessons about balanced eating, reading food labels and the benefits of exercise.
"Kyle does not use his intellect merely to achieve an incredible SAT score or use his creativity to write a piano concerto," said Douglas Laurie, vice president of American Heritage. "He utilizes his abilities to create positive changes in his community."
Kyle is a National Merit Scholar and president of the National Honor Society at his school. He will attend Columbia University.
* Honorable mentions: Harib Hassan Ezaldein, Cardinal Gibbons; Miranda Hellman, Everglades; Emma Victoria Yates, North Broward Preparatory.
Mark dedicates a lot of his time mentoring and tutoring students at the Broward Chinese School and advising students there who are headed to high school.
He created a basketball camp for students at the school. Registration fees for the basketball lessons helped raise money for another project that sends books to poor schools and villages of China.
Mark also founded the youth chapter of a local Chinese organization.
He's an active member of the Pembroke Pines Comets Swim Team and maintains a high grade-point average.
"His efforts in class reveal a student who works very hard," wrote one of his teachers, Eric Adzima.
* Honorable mentions: Myrhanda Karmarita Hogue, Hollywood Hills; Maxwell Phillip Kligerman, University School; Daniel Veingrad, Western.
As president of her school's National Honor Society chapter, Victoria oversees her classmates' work on other volunteer projects. She revamped the group's tutoring program, finding students who could be committed tutors and pairing them with classmates based on their strengths and weaknesses.
"She has permanently affected the tutoring program and helped the school's most needy children to achieve academic success," National Honor Society advisor Janie Duarte said.
Victoria also tutors students through the math honor society, Mu Alpha Theta, and raised more than $8,000 for the National Alliance for Autism Research.
* Honorable mentions: Robert William Moore Jr., Chaminade-Madonna; Marissa Mosteiro, South Broward; Joshua C. Roberts, University School.
Passionate about debate, Reyad knows how important it is to be able to communicate well. So he spent hours volunteering his time to work with children who needed speech therapy, gaining the trust of kids who had been teased and embarrassed.
"Everyone in the world can make a difference in someone's life," Reyad said.
He is the president of his school's debate team and has won many state and national competitions. He's alsoCoral Springs High's first competitor in the Lincoln-Douglas tournament at Harvard University.
Reyad organizes events at his mosque's youth group and is an officer for his school's history honor society.
He is ranked third in his class.
* Honorable mentions: Pamela Brown, Pine Crest; Sara Magenheimer, St. Thomas Aquinas; Jodi Lynne Savitz, Nova.
With images of the poverty in Argentina and Brazil in his mind, Pedro created the One Planet United club at his school. He used the club as a platform to discuss the need for unity and peace in the world and organized a shoe drive for the homeless.
Pedro writes for Teenlink, a student publication of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and has attended a summer program at Northwestern University's journalism school.
"He adores Superman. Besides the journalist alter ego, Pedro loves how Superman can help so many while being content to be Clark Kent," said Diana Adams, the school newspaper advisor. "I see this modesty in Pedro often."
* Honorable mentions: Jamie Alexander Daigle, Monarch; Casey Scharf, Coral Springs; Manuel Andres Serra-Jovenich, Chaminade-Madonna.
MELANIE ANN DiPIETRO
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
Melanie combined her love of history and television production to create a video history of the city of Plantation.
After about a year of volunteering at the Plantation Historical Museum, she learned that one of the women who ran a slide show and told the city's history could no longer do the job. So Melanie overcame her shyness to interview people for the video history.
She also set up a closed-circuit television station for students at St. Rose of Lima Catholic School in Miami Shores and trained students there in video production.
In the other areas of her life, including active roles in the Girl Scouts and the school water polo team, Melanie also has compiled and edited videos.
* Honorable mentions: Jacquese Canty, Flanagan; Alan Natochy, Plantation; Alissa Sneidman, Taravella.