That’s far from her only role, however. The Class of 2018 Freedom High valedictorian is the definition of well-rounded.
She loves to dance and has studied at the Jansen Dance Project in Tampa Palms since middle school. She’s president of Freedom’s math honor society, Mu Alpha Theta, and has participated in competitions for that club since she was a freshman. She’s also the president of a club she created at Freedom for students who want to learn American Sign Language. Catherine also says she loves to bake, especially cookies and birthday cakes. Oh, and she has a part-time job as a tutor.
Catherine has finished her high school career with an impressive GPA of 8.9. She boosted her GPA well above a “perfect” 4.0 with a combination of honors, Advanced Placement (AP) and dual enrollment (DE) classes, which varied from computer programming classes to astronomy, to American Sign Language, which she really enjoys and isn’t offered at Freedom.
She says she got her first B this year in AP Spanish, where the challenge of being the only non-native speaker has made it hard to understand the wide variety of accents and vocabulary among those in her class. But, she says she doesn’t regret the hard class, “I really like linguistics,” she says. “I speak English and Chinese at home.”
Catherine is part of a large, blended family, and she says she’s especially close to her older sister Diana, who has earned both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Florida in Gainesville. Diana is still a student at UF, now working toward her Ph.D. in Accounting.
Knowing Catherine’s love of baking, Diana tried to sweeten the deal to get her sister to choose her school.
“She promised me a stand mixer if I came to UF,” Catherine laughs.
Despite exploring options as far away as New York and Seattle, Catherine ultimately decided to join her sister at Florida. She is a Bright Futures scholarship recipient, National Merit Scholarship finalist and a recipient of the Benacquisto Scholarship, which provides incentives for high- achieving students to go to a state university in Florida.
“I have such a good opportunity at UF,” she says. “I’m proud to say I’m a Gator.”
Given Catherine’s love for such a broad range of activities, it shouldn’t be surprising that she hasn’t quite nailed down what she’ll major in at UF. She’ll be in UF’s Honor College, and says she’ll most likely be a business major.
As Catherine leaves high school, she says she will take with her a philosophy to try to absorb the best things from the people around her.
“I’ve made a lot of amazing friends,” she says. “They have different skilIs and virtues and amazing things about them. I don’t know if I just got lucky to be at Freedom or if people are amazing everywhere.”
She’s about to find out about the people in Gainesville, at least.
“I’m happy to go to a ridiculously big school,” she says. “I’ll never run out of people to meet or things to do.”
Salutatorian Alejandro Michel
Freedom’s Salutatorian is Alejandro Michel, who had a GPA of 8.8. Alejandro also is a well-rounded student, who has excelled in both academics and athletics.
On Saturday, May 4, Alejandro graduated from Hillsborough Community College in the morning, after earning enough credits through dual enrollment classes — while a student at Freedom — to receive his Associate of Arts (AA) degree.
After the ceremony, he traveled to Jacksonville for the Florida Class 4A High School Track & Field State Championships, qualifying this year for the first time. He is primarily a cross country runner, but found success running track this spring, as he moved on from excellent finishes at the District and Regional meets to run in the State meet, too.
Before attending Freedom, both Alejandro and Catherine attended Liberty Middle School and before that, both attended Chiles Elementary, also in Tampa Palms, since kindergarten.
They have something else in common, too. As Alejandro heads off to Florida State University in Tallahassee, he is choosing to go to school with his brother, Max, who graduated from Middleton High and HCC this spring, as well.
“We plan to have our own apartment together, close enough to ride a bike to campus,” Alejandro says. “I’ve been riding my bike to school since Chiles and I want to keep doing that.”
Alejandro says he has two main loves — running and math. At FSU, he plans to major in statistics and minor in computer science. He is on an accelerated track so that he will finish both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in just three years.
He says for his junior and senior year, he’s taken three math classes every semester, including AP Statistics, AP Calculus A/B and B/C, Calculus II and III and others. This year, he needed one more class at Freedom to keep his full-time status, so he chose Honors Trigonometry. “The teacher knows the level of math I have and lets me teach the class sometimes,” he says.
Alejandro intends to become an actuary — a mathematician who specializes in risk and probability. “Really, I would have loved to be a math teacher or professor,” he says, “but there’s a work/life balance you can get with being an actuary, working only 40 hours a week.”
He thinks that will leave him with enough time and financial stability to also pursue a career as a professional runner, with the flexibility to continue to train and run.
He says that on his journey so far, he’s learned about pursuing his passion and how that leads to success.
“Do you just want to be successful, or do you really enjoy waking up every day and getting out there and having a runner’s high?,” he asks. “You have to love the process, not just the idea of being successful.”