Students were honored for excelling in and out of the classroom
By Toni Konz Tatman / JCPS Communications
Thirty-two seniors in Jefferson County Public Schools who have excelled in and out of the classroom were honored by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer with his annual Outstanding High School Seniors Award.
In all, Fischer honored 49 public, private and parochial students during the ceremony at Metro Hall on Monday, May 6. This year’s recipients include immigrants from Somalia, Kenya, Bulgaria, Thailand and other countries, along with students who have overcome illness, personal struggles, disabilities and behavioral issues to achieve success.
The students include National Honor Society members, Governor’s Scholars, Men of Quality members, BETA Club members and others who have excelled in the arts and on the sports field.
Nearly all the students have plans for college and post-secondary education. All have contributed to their community through service work, including several involved in the Mayor’s Give A Day Week of Service and the International WE Day.
“These 49 young men and women we’re celebrating have outstanding achievements to their names thanks to their character and citizenship,” Fischer said. “Each one has the potential to make a real, positive impact on this community and beyond.”
Principals and guidance counselors throughout Louisville nominated students for the award.
This year's JCPS recipients include:
- Karen Mahlmann, Ahrens Work Transition Program
Karen is an excellent student who has increased her reading, writing, and math skills, and become more independent in her daily life. She is very active in Special Olympics and is a year-round athlete in basketball, track, softball, and bowling. Karen works at Qdoba and was the October employee of the month. She was adopted at age 2½ from a Bulgarian orphanage and did not speak her first word until she was 4. When she started at Atherton High School, her communication was very limited, and she has worked to increase her communication and social skills. She has volunteered at Norton and UofL hospitals, the Louisville Zoo, Centerstone, and the YMCA. She plans to keep working at Qdoba after graduation and will also participate in programming at Pillars Community Engagement Center for adults with disabilities.
- Liliana Tinsley, Atherton High School
Liliana is a determined, reliable worker who is persistent and ambitious. She has maintained a 3.375 GPA while taking International Baccalaureate and AP Courses. She wants to pursue a career as a forensic biologist and has been accepted to Eastern Kentucky University. She has been involved in Atherton’s Green Dot program through the Youth Service Center and is a member of the volleyball team. Liliana is trustworthy, ambitious, initiates tasks independently, and sees projects through to completion. She has a medical condition that was undiagnosed, causing great hardship for her. But she was persistent in seeking help and finally was able to have a medical plan put into place to assist her throughout the day. Despite these obstacles, she remains optimistic and outgoing.
- Ana Gonzalez Mackenzie, Ballard High School
Ana has taken a rigorous curriculum, which includes 6 AP courses and is on track to be a valedictorian of her class. She advanced to the regional science fair competition and won a cash award. Ana is bilingual, artistic, and has been a member of Ballard’s orchestra for four years, where she holds first chair for violin. Ana is involved in the Photography Club, Craft Club, French Club, and Spanish Club. Ana has participated in mission trips to Central America and is very involved in her church. Ana moved to the U.S. from Cuba when she was 9 and is now a leader among her peers. Ana plans to go to college and get a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. She is considering colleges in Florida or the University of Louisville.
- Devin Brey, Binet School
Devin has worked hard on his social skills and serves as a role model for his peers. Devin loves school and always brings a smile to everyone's face. Devin has overcome his impulsivity to react to stressful situations, and Binet is proud of his ability to think before he acts. We have witnessed him grow into a wonderful young man. When life becomes stressful, he has learned to demonstrate his feelings and ask for help. Devin has assisted in preparing Blessings in a Backpack for Binet School and Camp Taylor Elementary. He has also assisted with daily announcements and delivering mail to staff. He is a valued member of our school. He plans to attend a day program and continue to help his mother at home. Devin has a bright future full of love for life.
- Steven Thomas Jr., Breckinridge Metropolitan High School
Steven has attained senior status despite many challenges along the way. He has worked hard and is driven to earn his diploma. Steven is president of the Men of Quality group due to his leadership and willingness to be a role model. He would like to continue mentoring others after graduation. Steven has earned several certificates through the REimage program and has overcome life events that could have derailed his academic success. He risen above these challenges and continued to focus on his education. He is being trained in workforce education and is exploring employment opportunities within the city. Steven looks forward to graduation and transitioning into a position with Louisville Metro Parks.
- Jackson Matheis, Butler Traditional High School
Jackson is senior class president with a 4.16 GPA. His academic success has earned him numerous awards, including invitations to the Beta Club and the National Honor Society. He has organized service projects such as school clean-ups and peer tutoring. Jackson has dedicated himself to community service, including CrossRoads Missions, which builds homes in Louisville and assists in poverty-stricken areas of Appalachia. Jackson has been awarded a UofL Governor's Scholars Trustees Scholarship, as well as the John D. Kelly Scholarship from the Builders Exchange of Kentucky. Jackson wants to put his aptitude for math and science to work in civil engineering. He plans to attend the UofL Speed School of Engineering, then use his education to make Louisville a better place.
- Mykah Williams, Central High School
Mykah is on the A/B Honor Roll with a 3.5 GPA. Mykah was on the football team all four years while maintaining a GPA of 3.0 or higher. He has received several scholarship offers, both to play football as well as for academics. He also participates in the 100 Black Men Mentoring program and strives to help others to do their best. Mykah has overcome many academic challenges during his four years at Central. He plans to attend a four-year college on an academic scholarship and consider playing football as well.
- Sydney Raines, Churchill Park School
Sydney Raines is an exceptional young lady who is full of joy. She participates in community-based instruction and the Pathways Program, volunteering and serving in our community. Sydney's willingness to participate in activities such as Special Olympics has positively impacted her success at school. Sydney has participated in several job sites. She helps greet visitors to the Kentucky Science Center and Louisville Zoo, where she is very vocal and enjoys the people. At CAPS, Sydney uses hand-over-hand assistance to put rolled socks into a box. Sydney has also volunteered at the greenhouse, where she helps water the plants by holding onto the hose. She also goes to Rockford Manor Nursing Home to socialize with clients. Sydney plans to live with her family for the foreseeable future and participate in daily life to the maximum extent possible.
- Grace Brown, Doss High School
Grace is a quiet leader who stands out via her daily actions. Throughout high school, Grace has been honored often but remains very humble. She is in top 10 percent of her class, is a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist, and is in Who’s Who of Doss High School. Grace is a member of the Doss S.T.E.M Academy and received the Vogt Scholarship. Grace’s biggest challenge was transitioning from middle to high school. “It was an adjustment and very stressful,” she said. “Failure became real to me.” But she found strength to persevere. In her free time, Grace volunteers for her neighborhood farm and clean-up crew and reads with elementary students. Grace plans to attend UofL and major in the Economic Honor Program and minor in Spanish. She wants to work for the government and become an international economic relief professional.
- Brandon Brooks, duPont Manual High School
Brandon’s passion is politics and history. He likes to conduct data analysis of elections and extrapolate what will happen in the current election cycle. He wasn’t the strongest writer when he entered Manual, but by junior year he won a national writing award for his argumentative essay. Brandon is a student who will use his education to the best of his ability. Brandon's father suffers from medical issues that impair his ability to work. As a result, the family suffered financially and was forced to live in a one-bedroom apartment with Brandon's grandmother. This made Brandon realize that homelessness is an issue, and he made it his goal to give himself a better life. Brandon has participated on an advisory team to the Louisville Mayor developing solutions to poverty. He plans to go to college and major in political science and history. He wants to become a politician when he grows up so that he can help all people.
- Michael Lindsay, Eastern High School
Michael has a 3.3 GPA and is enrolled in both advanced and advance placement courses. He is a part of the Eastern High School of Business, posting top scores in the nation on the assessments, and is active in Future Business Leaders of America. While Michael has earned many, many accolades, he has also endured difficult circumstances. His father has passed away, and his mother is battling cancer. But he managed to balance his many school and community activities while still supporting his family. There are many paths open to this outstanding and caring young man, and he has chosen to continue his education at UofL so he can remain in Louisville and help take care of his mother and siblings.
- Lorena Bonet Velazquez, Fairdale High School
Lorena is in the Global Services Academy at Fairdale and is in National Honor Society. Lorena began earning college credit in ninth grade and takes courses at JCTC Southwest. She serves on the Center for Health Equity Racial Equity Youth Council and was an intern at the Louisville Metro Office for Globalization. Lorena came to the JCPS system as an immigrant to the U.S. and participated in the JCPS Newcomer Academy. She has not only mastered English, but she remains fluent in Spanish, a tool she uses to support and advocate for the Hispanic community in Louisville, as well as for social justice, equity, and equality. Among her many activities, she is an Educational Justice Activist Leader and an Adelante Ambassador. Lorena plans to attend college at either Centre College or Berea College and major in political science and international relations.
- Victoria Brown, Fern Creek High School
Victoria came to Fern Creek from a small private school at the beginning of her junior year. This was a big move for her, but she not only handled it well, she thrived. She chose to take the most rigorous curriculum and finished her junior year with straight A’s. She has earned many honors, including valedictorian and the Tiger Stripes Award. She works on the yearbook staff and volunteers at the Center for Women and Families, among other activities. Victoria’s ultimate goal is to have a successful career as a pharmacist and eventually become a pharmaceutical scientist. Fern Creek High School has every confidence that she will make an exceptional contribution to any university she attends.
- Muna Ismail, Georgia Chaffee TAPP
Muna has taken numerous courses in the Early Childhood Education pathway, developed a business plan for her own childcare facility, and worked this year in a childcare center. She has been active in Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America, a national organization that addresses important personal, family, work, and societal issues. Thanks to her upbeat demeanor and positive attitude, Muna serves as a student ambassador inside and outside of school. She has demonstrated her desire to lead via activities like the Equity in Higher Education and Young Women Lead conferences. Muna has overcome obstacles in her life. She moved here from Kenya as a youngster and successfully balanced being a teen mother, working, serving the community, and going to school. Muna plans to attend JCTC and eventually become an early childhood educator.
- Afi Tagnedji, Iroquois High School
Despite coming to the U.S. just 3½ years ago, Afi has excelled academically and maintains a perfect 4.0 GPA. She was selected as a Governor’s Scholar for her exceptional academic record and has numerous other academic achievements, including National Honor Society. Afi grew up in Togo and Ghana. Her family was separated from her father when he came to the U.S. to earn money, which took longer than expected. Afi's mother sold yams in their village to support them, and they were eventually able to come to the U.S. and be reunited. Today, Afi is senior class president and is active with the Principal's Advisory Board, the soccer team, the academic team, the Naval Science Program, and JCPS Equity Advisory Council, among many others. Afi hopes to become a doctor and eventually return to Ghana to improve living conditions for her family and build a hospital or school.
- Natalie Copelend, J. Graham Brown School
Natalie is class president, maintains a 4.31 GPA, and has been on the honor roll every year. One of her passions is advocating against human trafficking, and she presented an in-depth look at the problem for her senior project. She is part of Beta Club and the National Honor Society and president of KUNA, among other activities. Natalie’s father has heart issues, but she weathered the storm all the way through high school. Volunteer activities include the Center for Women and Families and the Louisville Zoo. Natalie has a merit scholarship to Western Kentucky University, where she will study nursing and social work.
- Jermecka Hampton, Jefferson County High School
Jermecka has overcome great struggles to get to where she is, and she has an internal drive to finish what she puts her mind to. Jermecka continually takes on life's challenges and will receive her diploma this year. She has stayed in school and will graduate despite having to work in a restaurant to support her family and care for her aunt, uncle, and siblings. After high school, Jermecka plans to attend Kentucky Community & Technical College and perhaps join the military.
- Aimee Ninahaza, Jeffersontown High School
Aimee takes challenging and rigorous AP classes and has a 4.15 GPA. She is part of Beta Club and the National Honor Society, serves as a student aide, sings in the school choir, participates in Future Business Leaders of America, and works with Kentucky Refugee Ministries and the Mayor’s Give A Day Week of Service. Aimee grew up in Burundi, where her father was forced to flee due to violent political repression. After several years apart, the family reunited in Louisville, where Aimee wants to inspire and empower others. Aimee has a scholarship to Berea College, where she plans to study chemistry and sociology, then attend graduate school for pharmacy.
- Khadija Mahdi, Liberty High School
Khadija always tries to improve herself. She surrounds herself with positive people and works constantly to increase her knowledge and performance. Her GPA has improved consistently, and she encourages her peers to do the same. As a refugee from Somalia and Kenya, Khadija made the difficult journey to America with her family. New to the country, she struggled to process her past and was a selective mute. After having difficulty staying in school, she eventually began taking pride in her work and found value in her words. She worked with siblings and teachers to improve herself academically and socially. Khadija currently helps with other refugee families in the community to help them feel safe and comfortable in their new home. She wants to connect with other organizations and travel to Africa to learn more about her culture. Her career goal is a real estate license to sell homes in Louisville.
- Dallas Douglas, Louisville Male High School
More than just a scholar, athlete, and musician, Dallas is an unsung hero because he helps those in need without expecting anything in return. He doesn’t care if he receives recognition for his good works. In his own words: “I believe these are good for the world and that someone needs to do it, so why not me? I want to be the flame of hope that is always burning in a world that sometimes seems like there is no hope.” Dallas is active with his church and a member of the school Beta Club and Black Student Union. He is a mentor at W.E.B. DuBois Academy and a tutor at Louisville Central Community Center, and his academic record is full of rigorous classes like calculus and college English. He plans to play football at Centre College while studying jazz performance and business.
- Mason Disalvo, Marion C. Moore High School
Mason has been on the honor roll all four years and is in the National Honor Society, as well as the Governor’s Scholars. Joining Future Farmers of America helped break him out his shell and open up to people, and he is now club president. Other groups in which he is active include Flight Club 502, JCPS Lift Superintendents Council, and Academies of Louisville. Outside of school, he works at Bungalow Joe's, and volunteers at Okolona Christian Church. He has also volunteered his time with the Jefferson County Farm Bureau. Mason has a passion for agriculture but a desire to learn engineering, thus he will study agricultural bio systems engineering at University of Kentucky. His goal is to become a water systems engineer.
- Ana-Jae Smith, Mary Ryan Academy
When Ana-Jae first came to Mary Ryan Academy, he was socially withdrawn and had trouble communicating with peers. Within two years, he has grown to not only be a class leader and honor roll student, but also an outgoing performer. He has acted in multiple school plays, including “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Aladdin.” He has been happy to take on leadership roles in the building and is a true friend and advocate for his classmates. Ana-Jae did all this while undergoing multiple surgeries that forced him to miss most of the curriculum last year. Yet he still managed to maintain a high GPA and perform volunteer work in the community. Ana-Jae would like to attend a post-secondary institution in the area and earn a degree in English.
- Jessica Stafford, Pleasure Ridge Park High School
Jessica is extremely bright and a joy to talk with. Her GPA is a perfect 4.0 GPA and she has completed many AP and dual credit courses. She has overcome several challenges to get here. When Jessica was in elementary school, her family was homeless. But she has persevered to become an amazing young lady. Jessica has earned several awards at the school and the district for her artwork. Additionally, she is student ambassador for the Health Sciences Academy, and a member of the National Art Honors Society and Beta Club. She has dedicated many volunteer hours assisting geriatric patients at Norton Audubon Hospital. She has earned a Porter Scholarship to UofL, where she will study biochemistry and biology with the goal of attending medical school.
- Hung Wei Yu, Seneca High School
Hung Wei came to the U.S. just four years ago with his father and brother, and he has overcome the language barrier to excel both academically and socially at Seneca. He has maintained a 4.1 GPA while taking many advanced courses. He has many academic accomplishments, awards, and leadership roles, including vice president of Seneca FFA, president of the National Honor Society, National Beta Club membership, and participation on the varsity quick recall team. He has volunteered for the Red Cross Blood Drive, the Louisville Zoo, Seneca Food Rescue, and many other causes. Hung Wei will attend the J.B. Speed School of Engineering at UofL and major in biomedical engineering.
- Rashel Bestard, Southern High School
Rashel has become a leader among her peers in the senior class. After coming from a broken home, she was raised by her mother and grandmother, whose death from ALS led to a decline in Rashel’s school performance. But she was determined not to fail and pushed on, even though it was a difficult time. She will now graduate with honors, earning a 4.16 GPA and membership in the National Honor Society. Rashel is a tutor and also volunteers with Best Buddies, Angel Tree, Chick-Fil-A Academy, and other causes. She has earned a Monsignor Treece Scholarship and a Lee Thomas Multicultural Scholarship to Bellarmine University, where she will major in nursing.
- Jaaylyn Mack, The Academy @ Shawnee
Jaaylyn is the youngest of 11 children and was raised by a single mother. Some of his older brothers dropped out of school and descended into lives of drugs and crime. However, with support of his mom and older sister, Jaaylyn put education first and will pursue a college degree. He has a 3.61 GPA and has taken several AP courses. He is in the Manufacturing Program and is earning a certified production technician certificate. Jaaylyn serves as a student aide and peer mentor and is in the National Honor Society. He is on the student council and participates in Men of Quality and the Whitney Young Scholars. Jaaylyn is on the varsity track and field team and is a manager for the varsity basketball team. He has earned scholarships to Eastern Kentucky University, Western Kentucky University, Murray State, and Bellarmine University. He will attend UofL on a Woodford R. Porter Scholarship and pursue a degree in sports administration.
- Kaden Brothers, The Phoenix School of Discovery
A caretaker for his autistic brother, Kaden has a talent for working with people who have special needs. He takes on this responsibility with energy, empathy, and grace. He recently lost his older sister, grandmother, and grandfather, placing another burden on him. But he persevered and will be a valedictorian with a 4.2 weighted GPA. Kaden assisted with the Unified Basketball Program for special education students and has coached with Special Olympics. He also served on the JCPS Superintendent's Committee to help solve problems in the school system. He is an orchestra musician and sings at his church. Kaden plans to attend college to study music education.
- Raidel Batista Torres, Valley High School
Raidel is a first-generation immigrant who struggled to become fluent in English for many years but has overcome that to become college ready. He is now in line to be 2019 valedictorian with a GPA of 4.4. An accomplished violinist, he is concert master of the Valley High School Orchestra Concert and has received a distinguished group rating at the KMEA assessments every year. A student on the biomedical pathway at Valley High School’s Health Science Academy, Raidel participated in the Regional Science Fair at the Kentucky Science Center. He plans to attend Bellarmine University to study exercise science and play violin in the university orchestra. His career goal is to become a physical therapist.
- Karley Linton, Waggener High School
Karley ranks in the top in her senior class and maintains a 4.11 GPA with a rigorous course load of advanced and AP classes. She excels academically despite having to work more than 30 hours a week to support herself. While her fellow students are able to take part in extra-curricular activities, Karley has only time for her job and her schoolwork, and she excels at both. Karley is a senior in the Waggener Health Science Academy and is working towards a certification as an EKG technician. She has been on the Principal’s List every semester of high school. Karley plans to attend Spalding University and major in clinical psychology and minor in education.
- Auma Lakang, Western High School
Auma arrived in Louisville by way of Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and New Zealand. Along the way, she picked up five languages and learned about the culture of each country. Auma’s father died when she was 3, and she has taken on many responsibilities, including acting as a spokesperson for her younger siblings. Auma has a 3.76 GPA and is ranked in the top 5 percent of her graduating class. In addition to her academic success, Auma's entrepreneurial spirit, technological interests, and passion for helping others led her to start the DesignNinjas, a club that plans and builds resources to improve life in the community. Her compassion, thoughtfulness, and leadership are heart-warming, and she is admired by the Western community. Auma recently received the Louisville Rotary Club Unsung Hero Award. She has been accepted by Campbellsville University, Eastern Kentucky University, and Sullivan University. She plans to pursue a business degree.
- Kaleigh Hampton, Youth Performing Arts School
Kaleigh has maintained a solid GPA and honor roll status throughout high school while pursuing a love of dance that requires her to spend 20 hours rehearsing in a typical week. Kaleigh was born with a significant red birthmark on her face, but never knew she looked different from other people until she grew older. Other young children – and even some adults – would comment about the birthmark, asking what was “wrong” with her face. Today, Kaleigh says that her birthmark has made her a strong yet empathetic person. She uses her talent for dance to give back to the community by creating and teaching dance routines to elementary school students. Kaleigh has been named YPAS Dancer of the Year and she is president of the school chapter of the National Honors Society for Dance Arts. She plans to attend college and build a successful career as a dancer.