Here at the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber, we are continuously proud of the work of the students, teachers, and staff of the School District of Osceola County. Every year our Poinciana Area Council recognizes graduating seniors in the Poinciana area with a scholarship competition. Past winners of this award have attended schools as diverse as Poinciana High School, New Dimensions, Osceola County School for the Arts, and Haines City High School.
This year PAC received many applications from students living in the 34758, 34759, and 34746 zip codes in either Osceola or Polk County. Two winners were chosen to receive scholarships in the amount of $1000 each. The chosen students were Kaitlyn Haslam from the Osceola County School for the Arts and Darrell Nieves-Lugo from Liberty High School. We were thrilled to be able to honor these two amazing students with an in-person awards ceremony once again this year. As in years past, the event was catered by the culinary students of Poinciana High School under the direction of Chef Juan Alamo. They offered a clever build-your-own flatbread or wrap with beef and chick kabobs, salad toppings, a delicious sauce, and an amazing chocolate baklava for desert, served in pandemic-safe individually-boxed servings.
To kick off the proceedings, 2021 Poinciana Area Council Chairman Crystal Bethea of Riviera Spa Massage spoke about the work the PAC Board of Directors has done to keep the scholarship alive during the pandemic. Last year, to support out students during a tricky time, the board used all remaining funds in the scholarship account to provide four students with $1000 scholarships and honor them during a virtual event via Zoom. Unable to offer their signature PoincianaFest event this past October, the PAC board had to be creative about ways to replenish the funds for this year’s awards. As Crystal shared, an awesome Virtual Paint Night on March 5 helped the PAC board raise over half the needed funds. A generous matching grant from Commissioner Brandon Arrington got us to the desired amount.
Following Crystal’s opening remarks, School Board Member Jon Arguello offered some inspiring words to our two students. He took the opportunity afforded him by the intimate setting to address the two students directly and praise them for their hard work and inspiring goals that led them to be chosen for the award. He noted that these are two people of strong character, as well as impressive academic resumes, and that often people don’t touch on the amount of character it takes to achieve one’s goals.
With some words of introduction from their academic advisors, the students each took the time to read the essays they penned as part of their winning applications. Attendees heard from Kaitlyn about how her mother’s struggle with cancer has inspired her to pursue a career in medical oncology. Meanwhile, Darrell has his sights set on space as he would like to work for NASA or SpaceX one day as an Aerospace Engineer. His immediate plan to is to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Central Florida, while Kaitlyn is headed to the University of Florida to study pre-professional Biology.
Unfortunately, our second keynote speaker, Valencia Poinciana’s Executive Dean, Dr. Jennifer Robertson, was unable to join us due to injury. However, she sent a video that very succinctly expressed her congrats to the winners, specifically calling them out for their achievements and goals, and her general positive impression of the talented students that Valencia accepts to their dual enrollment program from our local high schools. She also noted the historic moment in which we are living and applauded these students’ resilience to pursue their academic achievements during such unprecedented times. Finally, she reminded them that, “to achieve a big goal, you have to set many small goals along with way.”
We were also excited to have School District of Osceola County Superintendent Dr. Debra Pace present to congratulate and celebrate the students. If you would like to assist the Poinciana Area Council with either funds or supplies as they support our schools, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.