40th Annual Silver Garland Awards, Lakeland FL

Silver Garland Awards, May 9, 2016 – Florida Southern College – Branscomb Auditorium
Silver Garland Awards, May 9, 2016 – Florida Southern College – Branscomb Auditorium

Every spring, a new class of Polk County senior high school students gets ready to embark on exciting journeys that will define their lives. All of the work that has led them to graduation culminates in a few fleeting ceremonies where the graduation cap and gown will get tossed aside as the realities of everyday life begin to settle in and take hold.

This spring, like many in the past, was no different. The names and people change, but the rituals and rites of passage continue with a tradition that solidly bring a finality to every graduating senior. Just like the graduation ceremony, there are a few other rites of passage that help to define the community and students who will be moving on to college and careers that will define and shape the world we all live in.

In Polk County Florida, on long standing tradition has been to recognize outstanding seniors whose dedication to the community and the betterment of people around them is another one of those rites. For 40 years, the Silver Garland Awards sponsored by the Ledger Media Group and Lakeland Automall Ford & Hyundai honors high school seniors that have made significant contributions in 11 different categories. The awards are open to all Polk County Schools (both public and private) and honors outstanding service to the community.

Each school has the opportunity to nominate students in Arts, Athletics, Citizenship, English Literature, Foreign Language, Journalism, Mathematics, Music, Performing Arts, Science and Vocational-Technology. The category nominees are then interviewed and judged based on their individual participation, dedication and involvement in making a difference to Polk County, the surrounding communities and around the world. The Silver Garland Award winners receive a crystal award trophy and cash prize of $1,000 scholarship.

This year 149 students were nominated, but unfortunately only 11 winners were selected. There were outstanding student achievements in community activism, international outreach and dedicated teaching and mentoring of underprivileged and needy. Every year it is an honor to see the outpouring of support that the youth bring to the betterment of the world. This year was no different.

Greg Balasco, Lakeland Automall owner said “We are so pleased to have our outstanding students here this evening, and it’s a blessing to be able to showcase their contributions and the impact of their positive actions.”

The evening started with the Southeastern University Jazz Ensemble until Ledger Media Group Editor Lenore Devore presided over the introduction and served as the Mistress of Ceremonies. The presentation of all 149 nominees was done by Jessica Solano, 2016 Polk County Teacher of the Year and nominee for 2016 Florida Teacher of the year. After the introductions and passing out of certificates, Greg Balasco, Kevin Drake (Publisher, Ledger Media Group) and Jacqueline Byrd, Polk County Schools Superintendent gathered on stage to announce all 11 Silver Garland Award winners.

Greg Balasco continued his recognition, “Each of you – our talented, selfless and focused nominees – is deserving of our pride, our gratitude and support as you continue to garner our attention through your efforts. Thank you for all you have given selflessly. We anticipate only the greatest opportunities as you move toward your future goals. Again, congratulations to each of our nominees.”

As quickly as the evening had begun, it was over. All of the self-sacrifice and dedication of each and every student culminated in pageantry and pomp of yet another year. We thank everyone who has dedicated their time and lives to the betterment of others and hope to continue the tradition for another year as a new group of seniors begins their journey this fall and graduates start new lives. It is with great pride we move forward and continue this dedication to service, community and schools. We look forward to next year and another outstanding group of seniors who work their lives to help others.

Lenore Devore, Editor Ledger Media Group
Lenore Devore, Editor Ledger Media Group


Jessica Solano, 2016 Polk County Teacher of the Year
Jessica Solano, 2016 Polk County Teacher of the Year
Jacqueline Byrd, Polk County Schools Superintendent & Greg Balasco, Lakeland Automall Owner
Jacqueline Byrd, Polk County Schools Superintendent & Greg Balasco, Lakeland Automall Owner
Jacqueline Byrd, Greg Balasco, Kevin Drake, Ledger Media Group
Jacqueline Byrd, Greg Balasco, Kevin Drake, Ledger Media Group
Eager nominees wait to hear the announcement fo the Silver Garland Award winners
Eager nominees wait to hear the announcement fo the Silver Garland Award winners

The Winners of the 2016 Silver Garland Awards

Art –  Noah McNair, Harrison School for the Arts – 
The Art judges have unanimously agreed on Noah McNair for the following reasons: Dedication to the full spectrum of the arts, including film, dance, theater and music. Passion for using art for humanitarian efforts. An incredible number of volunteer hours toward reaching these goals. Noah exudes great humility amid such achievements.

Athletics – Zachary Scott, Santa Fe Catholic High School – 
Zach impressed the judges with his genuine passion for serving mentally and physically challenged youth and adults through the Special Olympics programs, taking a leadership role as an advocate. His interest in sharing his athletic talents with others extends to the Buddy Baseball program as well as mentoring through tae kwon do. He has been a dedicated altar server at his church and is a trainer of incoming youth.

Citizenship – Emily Everett, Lakeland High School
Her insight on service stood out to us. She started the Mayor’s Youth Council to get the youth to be aware of needs in the community and to give them a voice with those in a position to make a difference.

English Literature – Rocel Balmes, International Baccalaureate — Haines City – 
After surviving an armed carjacking in her native Philippines, Rocel moved to the U.S. and learned English. With a desire to give a voice to others who were “voiceless,” she started Youth for Humanity at her school. She also is a writer for The New York Times Learning Network Student Council and is at the top of her class!

Foreign Language – Kathy Vega, Winter Haven High School – 
Passionate about her volunteer work and makes it a priority. An incredibly poised young lady. Dedicated to service to her community and helping with her bilingual abilities.

Journalism – Leland Dutcher, Harrison School for the Arts – 
Leland has a passion for storytelling.  His enthusiasm for that craft has captivated his school community and certainly impressed the judges.  He has taken his talents and used them to improve the lives of others.  It will be exciting to see what the future holds for this bright, rising star.

Math – Evan Murray, Lake Gibson High School – 
Well-rounded and creative in the way he uses his skills and abilities to help others. Seeks ways to look out for the interest of others.

Music – Vaviel Verner, Lakeland Christian School – 
Vaviel is an exemplar in blending the gift of music, leadership and community service. Her commitment to the community through volunteerism is evidenced by her directing the youth praise band at church and school, teaching at summer music camps, as well as working festivals and other music-related events.

Performing Arts – Alexandra Simmons, All Saints Academy – 
Impressed by her “Take Heart Africa” project and the application of her dance to the project and her understanding of the people and environment when she went to Kenya. Great community service volunteering at Florida Dance Theater.

Science – Divya Ravinder, International Baccalaureate — Bartow – 
Created a global impact program from a science program. Self-initiated scientific research — motivates students. Science fair entry each year of school. 381 volunteer hours.

Vocational/Technology – Adriana Hall, Santa Fe Catholic High School – 
Through her volunteer work at Peace River Center and other activities, Adriana has become a great proponent of improving the mental and physical health of young people in Polk County, and her heart leads many of her contributions to our community.

Leave a Reply