At the announcement of each win, Maclay’s Langford Hall was filled with applause and cheers from students and their families as they gathered to watch the Best & Brightest Award Ceremony. The candidates this year were Annette Lu (Art), Mateus Bitencourt (Athletics), Nick Cichetti (Business), Britton Robinson (Career/Technical), Ella McConnell (English/Language Arts), Veronica Marshall-Kirk (Journalism/Media Production), Michael Sweeney (Leadership), Katie Matthews (Mathematics), Madison Perkins (Music), Ramsay Grant (Public Speaking), Spencer Gibbs (Science & Health), Daniela Paredes (Social Sciences), Katy Merritt (Technology) and Sonu Patel (World Languages). Overall, Maclay took home two honorable mentions, one runner-up and two wins out of the 14 categories and 161 candidates. Merritt and Paredes received honorable mentions, Sweeney earned runner-up and Patel and Gibbs won first place in their respective categories. Each nominee from Maclay will be sent a $100 scholarship, along with the honorable mentions receiving $500, runner-ups receiving $750 and first place winners receiving $1,500. 

“I am thrilled about winning first place in the Science & Health category for Best and Brightest. As the names one by one were announced, I did not think I was going to place, but it was a great surprise watching my name appear on the screen,” Gibbs said. “If I had to choose one thing that I think helped me the most, I am stuck between either the support of my amazing science teachers throughout high school, such as Mr. Burrows, Mr. Schnippert and Dr. Perry who were really engaging and helped me to have a strong base in science, or my DIS in philosophy with Mr. Norment last semester, which really strengthened my critical thinking and writing abilities.”

The 16th Best & Brightest Award Ceremony was originally set to be hosted at the Ruby Diamond Concert Hall at Florida State University; however, out of Covid-19 precaution, the decision to move the award ceremony to a live virtual stream was released to the candidates on Apr. 12, making this the second year of it being virtual. While other schools were primarily online or had a large presence of online students, Best & Brightest sponsor Cindy Stockstill recognized that most Maclay students were attending school in-person and decided to host an event for the nominees with the support of Head of School James Milford and Head of Upper School Charles Beamer. 

Senior Sonu Patel poses after the announcement of her win in the World Languages category. Photo by Cindy Stockstill.

“I was really surprised by my placement in the Best and Brightest Competition, but I’m really excited and looking forward to working more with technology in the future,” Merritt said. “I think having a passion for my category since I began high school helped me receive a Best and Brightest award since most of my extracurriculars were connected to technology in some way.”

Senior Katy Merritt poses after the announcement of her honorable mention. Photo by Cindy Stockstill.

After working hard on their applications and interviewing with Tallahassee professionals in their category, the seniors and their families spent the evening of May 12 watching the award ceremony with one another. Stockstill, who helped the students through the application process, hosted the event with the help of college counselor Matthew Cave as a reward for the students’ hard work. 

“I believe the two biggest things that helped me receive this award were having a lot of volunteer hours and serving on several leadership positions,” Sweeney said. “For future students entering the Best and Brightest competition, I would recommend volunteering in a way that is enjoyable and fulfilling, especially during the summer. Many of my volunteer hours came from coaching at sports camps and working at mission trips, and I had a lot of fun while doing these things.”

Senior Michael Sweeney poses after being named runner-up in the Leadership category. Photo by Cindy Stockstill.

At the watch party, dinner was provided by Hopkins Eatery and consisted of chicken tetrazzini, cobb salad and assorted desserts all served to the attendees. Stockstill gave a brief speech of congratulations to the nominees, and the live stream began at 6:30 p.m.. The stream started with an introduction by Best & Brightest Program Director Laura Roberts. Other speakers included Chair of the Board of Envision Dr. Cassandra J. Grayson, Executive Editor of the Tallahassee Democrat William Hatfield, Director of Financial Aid at Tallahassee Community College Bill Spiers and Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna, who all came together to offer their congratulations to the seniors. 

Senior Daniela Paredes poses after the announcement of her honorable mention. Photo by Cindy Stockstill.

After the introduction, the winners of the eighth grade Best & Brightest essay contest were announced. Following the announcement of the eighth grade winners, awards were presented to the seniors in order of category. President and CEO of Sachs Media and creator of the Best & Brightest Awards program Ron Sachs introduced each of the categories, along with professionals from the community in each category through a video recording, and announced the winners. The 45 winners typically are presented with trophies during the ceremony, but they will be receiving them in a Covid-19 safe manner at a later date. The event concluded with the presentation of the Spirit of the Best & Brightest Award by Laura Rogers and the Excellence in Volunteerism Award by CEO of Volunteer Florida Corey Simon.

“For future students, find your passion. Find service that speaks to you and that you feel connected to. Be involved!,” Stockstill said. “Find a way to take the lead in organizing an idea that supports your community service. Don’t be timid; you have every right and even a responsibility to give back to your community!”

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