For Wharton High’s 2019 Valedictorian, Victoria “Tori” Bell, being at the very top of her class runs in the family.
Both of Tori’s older brothers, Earl and Jared, were also Wharton valedictorians. Earl is now serving in the military, and Jared is earning his undergraduate degree in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
“It was always assumed that I would follow in their footsteps, but I never felt forced into it,” says Tori, 17, who earned a 9.01 GPA at Wharton by completing several Advanced Placement STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses while simultaneously earning an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree from Hillsborough Community College.
Tori, a National Merit Scholar and member of the Mu Alpha Theta Mathematics Honor Society and the Science National Honor Society, received fully-financed offers from Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of South Florida, but had her heart set on attending UF.
“My brothers both went there, and it’s always the school I wanted to go to,” said Tori, who was awarded the Benacquisto and Presidential Scholarship from UF, which will more than cover her full tuition and living expenses.
Tori says her recipe for success was, “consistency and determination with measured doses of goofing off,” which she did by playing video games, going to the gym, and enjoying lots of movies and TV shows by herself and with friends.
“I absolutely love stories,” said Tori, whose favorites include the Ender’s Game series, Marvel comic book movies, and the British drama hit “Killing Eve.”
Tori also is an avid reader who has whiled away many an afternoon at the bookstore, reading Gillian Flynn, Emily Danforth and Agatha Christie.
Her parents, Ed and Diana Bell, teach math and language arts at Wharton; however, her mother says that Tori is very self-sufficient and never asked either of them for help with homework.
Tori plans to major in Accounting, although she says that career choice is not set in stone, and plans to minor in English at UF. She’s also looking forward to living in Gainesville, closer to her brother Jared.
“My parents and family have been absolutely amazing, and I know I wouldn’t be here without them,” she said.
Salutatorian Also Headed To UF
Wharton’s salutatorian Ashley Joseph, who came in just behind Victoria with an 8.41 GPA, was, like the valedictorian, determined for success from the beginning.
“My parents taught me the importance of education from an early age,” says Ashley, 18, who took additional online and dual enrollment courses as a freshman and sophomore specifically to meet high school graduation requirements as soon as possible. “From there, I followed my passions and learned continuously.”
Ashley volunteers weekly in the emergency room at AdventHealth Tampa, interacting with patients and helping at the front desk, and works as a tutor at Kumon Math and Reading Center in New Tampa.
“My goal is to become a doctor,” says Ashley, who also will attend UF. “The ability to help others is extremely meaningful and rewarding (to me).”
Wharton High’s 2019 graduation ceremony will be held at the Florida State Fairgrounds on U.S. 301 in Tampa on Thursday, May 30, at 12:30 p.m.