Valedictorians from 10 local high schools gave speeches to their classmates at graduation ceremonies this week. | Provided photos

As they walked to the podium at their graduations, their stoles were heavy with medals, cords and other awards – visible signs of years of hard work. From astronomical grade point averages to excelling in sports, the valedictorians from Lakeland’s high schools have big plans for their futures.

Lakeland High School’s Cullen Wyatt

Cullen Wyatt

School: Lakeland Senior High School 

Age: 18

Parents’ names: Jason Wyatt and Kristin Wyatt

GPA: 4.721

Honors/Awards: 2023 National Merit Finalist, University of Rochester Honorary Science Award Recipient, U.S. Presidential Scholars Program Nominee

Study Habits: Make the most of the time that you allocate toward studying. Don’t make assignments more time-consuming than they should be.

Hobbies/Sports/Clubs: Varsity Soccer, Spanish Club, National Honor Society, National English Honor Society

College you plan to attend: University of Florida

Major: Chemical engineering

Career Plans: I hope to eventually work in the pharmaceutical industry designing and optimizing drug production processes.

Harrison School For The Arts’ Susannah Braswell

Susannah Elizabeth Braswell

School: Harrison School for the Arts

Age: 18

Parents: Laura and Charles Braswell

GPA: 4.72

Honors/Awards: Robert J. Fisher Poetry Award, President’s Scholar Award, Scholastic Award in Art, Scholastic Award in Writing, Vires Scholar and Service Scholar recipient at Florida State University, Named a Provost Scholar at Temple University and the University of Central Florida, Named a Presidential Scholar at the University of South Florida, Auburn University, and the University of Alabama, Recipient of Baylor University’s Invitation to Excellence Scholarship and Furman University’s Townes Scholarship, Polk Museum of Art scholarship recipient, Martin Family Scholarship recipient for students attending out of state college, Carol Ingram Art Scholarship, Lakeland Sister Cities scholarship recipient, Polk County superintendent’s award

Study Habits: I worked very hard at the beginning of high school and established my academic goals early on.  I took lots of AP classes and many courses at Polk State College. I had really great teachers at Lakeland High School and a wonderful guidance counselor at Harrison who cared about me as a student and wanted to help me succeed. As a product of Lakeland public schools, I have been with many of the same kids since kindergarten and we have all challenged each other and helped each other along the way.  

Sports/Clubs: Varsity Tennis Team at Lakeland High School, Harrison Arts Council, National Honor Society, National English Honor Society

Hobbies: Reading, writing, painting and thrifting. I have loved growing up in a home that serves as a foster home for One More Child and volunteering with special needs adults at the Shine On Program. I have five siblings and love being a part of a big, sometimes crazy family!!

College: Duke University

Major: Undeclared

Career Plans: Social work or law

International Baccalaureate at Bartow High School’s Neil Dave

Neil Dave

School: Bartow International Baccalaureate at Bartow High School

Age: 17

Parents: Priti Dave and Jay Dave

GPA: 4.85

Honors/Awards: National Merit Scholar, U.S. Presidential Scholars candidate, AP Scholar with Distinction and Academic Team state finalist.

Study Habits: If you want my honest afterschool routine, in previous years that would include volunteering and tennis, although this year I’ve taken a bit more of a break due to some health complications. A lot of my time outside of school gets consumed by either studying for the county A-Team or taking various dual-enrollment courses at Polk State College.

Sports/Clubs: Tennis, A-Team, Key Club and president of our Mu Alpha Theta club

Hobbies: Reading, listening to music and playing the guitar. One thing that I really like doing is volunteering as an animal care assistant at the SPCA.

College you plan to attend: Georgia Tech

Major: Applied mathematics and computer science

Career Plans: I’m undecided on a career path, though likely something that’s heavily STEM-involved so that I can continue working with mathematics. 

Lake Gibson High’s Cross Gentry Clark

Cross Gentry Clark

School: Lake Gibson High School

Age: 17

Parents: Paige Lenora Clark and Blair Timothy Clark

GPA: 4.75

Honors/Awards: Top 10 or 20 cords, Legacy leaders, Social Studies award (Junior awards)

Study Habits: When you take a lot of classes, you might not get to every class in the same night, that’s okay. You have to pace yourself and set objectives for the night.

After a long day of looking at a screen my eyes can start to hurt, but I still have to read for some classes. So, in order to get the information that I need without straining my eyes, I see if I can find an audio version to listen to.

When it comes to AP classes, I recommend watching the AP videos. Sometimes I put videos on increased speeds depending on the complexity. When it comes to math, if I’m learning a new formula, calculate the answer fully, then try doing the reverse process. If practice tests are available, take them; not only does it offer more practice, but it can also help build confidence.

Music can help with motivation or focus. After long periods of cramming, take a break, walk around, eat and hydrate. The mind and body can get worn down if not taken care of. One of the things that has helped me in senior year is having people to study with. Having someone to quiz you, then quizzing them, helps build familiarity with content and also makes learning an enjoyable process.

Hobbies/Sports/Clubs: Woodworking, learning Japanese, Weightlifting, Tribal Council, A-Team, Robotics Club.

College you plan to attend: University of South Florida

Major: Political Science

Career Plans: I plan to pursue law – possibly personal injury or trial lawyer.

Lakeland Christian School’s Lily Harrington

Lily Charlotte Harrington

School: Lakeland Christian School

Age: 17

Parents: Mr. and Mrs. Michael Harrington

GPA: 4.72

Honors/Awards: National Honor Society, English Honor Society, Science Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, Heisman High School Award, Lettered Varsity Soccer, 2022-2023 girls’ soccer state champion

Sport: Soccer

College Plan: University of Florida

Major: Pre-Med

George Jenkins High School’s Nadia Khalil

Nadia Khalil

School: George Jenkins High School

Age: 18

Parents’ names: Amir and Melissa Khalil

GPA: 4.716

Honors/Awards: High honors, MVP GJHS volleyball, Hammond Scholar, perfect score on Biology FSA, member of University of Miami Honors College

Study Habits: Working in a quiet place with an accountability partner and a coffee always keeps me on track.

Hobbies/Sports/Clubs: Varsity Indoor Volleyball, Varsity Beach Volleyball, Club Volleyball, National Honor Society, Human Rights Club founder

College you plan to attend: University of Miami

Major: Architecture and business management

Career Plans: To become an architect and eventually own my own firm.

Santa Fe Catholic High School’s Alan Hengesbach

Alan Hengesbach

School: Santa Fe Catholic High School

Age: 18

Parents’ names: Justin and Laura Hengesbach

GPA: 4.75

Honors/ Awards: Academic Excellence in Foreign Language, Social Studies, English and Religion, AP Scholar with Distinction

Study Habits: Create a calendar with due dates to spread out work. To prepare for tests, highlight and study over multiple days.

Hobbies/ Sports/ Clubs: Varsity Football, Varsity Soccer, National Honor Society, president of Science National Honors Society, student body secretary, Mu Alpha Theta Honors Society, Beta Club, World Language Honors Society, Quill and Scroll Honor Society, English Honor Society, Rho Kappa Honor Society

College you plan to attend: University of Florida

Major: Finance on the Pre- Med Track

Career Plans: I plan on becoming a doctor.

Kathleen High School’s Colby Lee

Colby Lee

School: Kathleen High School Central Florida Aerospace Academy

Age: 18

Parents’ names: Kevin and Allison Wing

GPA: 4.492

Honors/Awards: James C. Ray Flight Training scholarship, ACE Foundation Wingman scholarship, National Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship, Auburn University Academic Charter scholarship, Polk County Auburn Club scholarship

Study Habits: I kept a balance between school and personal activities, but if there was work I needed to complete, I made sure I got it done before doing fun things or spending time with friends.

Hobbies/Sports/Clubs: Flying, Lakeland Aero Club

College you plan to attend: Auburn University

Major: Aerospace engineering

Career Goal: I plan to commission in the Navy after graduating from college and pursue a career in Naval Aviation.

McKeel Academy of Technology’s Evan Ho

Evan Tyler Ho

School:  McKeel Academy of Technology

Age: 18

Parents’ names: Devan Ho and Jessica Pham

GPA: 4.785

Honors/Awards: AP Capstone, AP Scholar with Distinction, Silver Garland nominee, president of Science National Honor Society, president of Coding Club, captain of Academic Team, captain of Competitive Programming Team, president of Interact Club, software engineering internship at Lockheed Martin

Study Habits: I made sure to understand the concepts, not just the application, so I could answer conceptual questions and come to my own conclusions.

Hobbies/Sports/Clubs: AP Chemistry tutoring, ACT tutoring, NHS, Mu Alpha Theta, FBLA

College you plan to attend: Harvard University

Major: Computer science and Economics

Career Plans: Go into quantitative analysis for a few years, while building up a real estate portfolio, then use the passive income to fund a fintech startup.

Tenoroc High School’s Daniel Camacho

Daniel Camacho

School: Tenoroc High

GPA: 4.258

College you plan to attend: Florida Polytechnic University

Major: He plans to study with the NEARPOD Program

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at or 863-272-9250.

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