These Florida high school students are representing their generation at its best.
BY PENNY DICKERSON
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
Meet Generation Z, the newest installment of innovative young adults to populate the earth. They were born in 1995 and onward, and unlike their Gen X and Y predecessors, who were reputed to be narcissistic and less concerned about civic engagement, Gen Z’ers are characterized as technology savants who insatiate online research.
They are dynamic entrepreneurs labeled culture creators and they are high achievers who dream. The latter is personified by 12 Florida students who attended the Disney Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and Essence held March 21-24 in Lake Buena Vista.
The program focuses on career immersion and inspired 100 students nationwide to discover new opportunities.
Here are some Floridian stories that demonstrate how Generation Z is changing the world.
Julia Shepherd has never earned a grade of B. The 16-year-old is a straight A, Apopka High School student who takes advanced placement (AP) courses at Valencia Community College.
Boasting a 5.4-grade point average, she is on target to graduate as valedictorian of her class. Admittedly ambitious, Shepherd aspires to earn the Gold Award in Girl Scouts, an organization she’s been actively involved since age 10 and sees Eagle Scout within reach now that girls too can be scouts. But most impressive is her selfless contributions to the Lupus Foundation of America.
“My aunt Laura passed away from lupus when I was 5,” shared Shepherd. “I was too young to understand everything but committed myself to being involved when I got older.”
Shepherd founded Lupus Outloud, a nonprofit organization that has raised $1,000 annually for the past six years to benefit “Walk to End Lupus Now” held in Tampa. She also is writing a children’s book about lupus.
“I have a passion to help people and want a career where I can do that,’’ Shepherd said.
Vast leadership experience
Anthony Taylor is a Miami-based servant leader who volunteers for area homeless events and foster care.
The latter can be deemed lightweight for a young man whose leadership spectrum further includes being senior class president, teen president of the Miami chapter of Jack and Jill of America, National Honor Society, Key Club, debate team and a pre-college STEAM program. Impressed yet?
“Leadership is not always about giving direction,” Taylor said. “You have to be able to understand, listen, and give objective advice so that everyone accomplishes goals.”
Taylor is a 17-year-old, dual-enrolled student at Young Men’s Preparatory Academy and Miami-Dade Community College (Wolfson campus).
Angela Taylor attributes the following to her only child’s success: “Being consistent and parentally involved has made a difference,” she said. “I followed through when required and exposed him to the world including a trip to Spain. He also attended private school grades 6 through 9 at Miami Country Day.’’
A student-athlete who plays on the varsity basketball team, the teen said he’s glad his mother both believes in and encourages him.
“I know that I will attend an HBCU, major in engineering and fulfill my dreams,” said Taylor. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Gabrielle Wright is African-American. She’s also Native American, White, Greek and claims a hint of German. With a 4.5 GPA, her dream to attend New York University and become an actress will likely come true.
A freshman at Circle Christian in Orlando, Wright enjoys pageantry, dance, acting, singing and karate. She’s an ordinary girl who just happens to be executive director of her own charitable nonprofit organization – A Birthday Party Wish.
“Imagine if you were 8 years old, homeless, and never had a birthday party,” posed Wright. “I started my nonprofit with my brother Johnny to change that.”
According to the organization’s website, “a Birthday Party wish allows a child to pick a party location, cake theme and flavor, choose their birthday gifts, and invite friends and family.”
“My passion in life is to bring happiness to others,” said Wright.
School, work, travel
With ease and a smile, Jalen Sanders wakes up thankful every morning and ventures to Madison High School and North Florida Community College where the 17-year-old senior is dual-enrolled. When classes end, Sanders’ day doesn’t. He heads to either Taco Bell where he works part-time or a community center to mentor elementary students. Sanders is no stranger to hard work.
“My mom died when I was 4 years old and me and my twin sister were raised with love by our father and relatives,” explained Sanders, who said his father and grandfather are loggers who deliver pine trees to the local mill.
Sanders experienced Disney World for the first time this year at the Disney Dreamers Academy and previously enjoyed his first plane ride as a select student attendee to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) in Washington, D.C.
More travel is on Sanders’ radar along with attending Florida A&M University in the fall where he will major in education.
“I strive to do my best every day so that my future will be bright,” Sanders noted.
Captain now, doctor later
One day she hopes to be called Dr. Grace Allen, but for now, the 17-year-old high school senior remains busy as director of photography for Orlando’s Lake Highland Preparatory School where she is also captain of the nationally ranked varsity volleyball team.
Allen has been accepted to Harvard University and will also play on the Ivy League’s Division I team.
“I hope to pursue a career in neurology and help facilitate the introduction of technology into modern medicine,” said Allen, who plans to work at both Barnes and Noble Bookstore and Starbucks this summer to earn extra cash.
“I believe success comes to those who chase it, and I am not one to shy away from challenges,” Allen shared.
One Disney Dreamer was gifted a unique name by her native West Africa, Sierra Leone parents. Her mother is Mina Sylvia and Brian is her father. The merging of the names belongs to Bransyl Boston, a 17-year-old senior attending Middleburg High School. She’s a math fanatic who has been accepted to the University of South Florida.
“I chose USF because they have a great med school and offered me an excellent financial aide package,” said Boston, who added that she loves math because it is easy to comprehend and has one final answer.”
Boston is immersed in extracurricular activities, including Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), Spanish club, and her senior class committee. Despite an aptitude for math, her dream is to become a physical therapist.
“I want to help people who’ve had surgery on the road to recovery,” said Boston.
She added, “I’d like to become an international travel physical therapist, so I can help people around the world.”