STRAIGHT TALK: Future bright because of these 3

Steve Stefanides

As we approach the month of May, high school seniors and parents are becoming more and more excited as they look in mailboxes or online for acceptance letters from colleges.

Some are even anxiously awaiting news on potential scholarship awards from Rotary, Kiwanis, the Woman's Club or many other organization that help make college a reality. Those of us that have worked in education as teachers or administratively are sometimes as excited for them as they are, having watched this next generation grow and mature while working hard during their four years of high school.

My thoughts today are transfixed on three young people whom I have known, two of them from the island and one from back in my home state of New Hampshire.

• The first is Marco-born native Jordan Sorrenti. I've known Jordan since he was born and proudly watched him grow into the young man he is today at 25 years old. Jordan is a product of our local school system, from Tommie Barfield, the Charter Middle School and then on to Lely High School.

While at Lely, he became involved in the ROTC program, where he excelled and eventually became their leader during his senior year. With an excellent scholastic standing, wonderful references and his leadership in ROTC he earned an appointment to the Military Academy at West Point where he graduated about two years ago.

Since his graduation, Sorrenti has seen action in the combat theater in Afghanistan and is stationed in Germany, where his beautiful wife, Hilary, has joined him. He now has the rank of first lieutenant.

From a little boy who played in the sand in front of the Hilton to a man who leads men in the most difficult of situations, Jordan makes us all proud.

• The next is a young lady who has overcome her share of challenges to become one of the brightest and prettiest women I know. Her name is Amanda Jenkins from New Hampshire. Her mom and dad are great friends of mine; her dad is a younger fraternity brother from my alma mater. I have the privilege of being called "Uncle Stef" by Amanda and her three sisters and they make me smile every time I visit with them.

Due to a lack of oxygen during the birth procedure, Amanda was afflicted with Cerebral Palsy that affected her mobility and to some extent her verbal skills. Doctors were less than reassuring about the future when they spoke with her parents shortly after her birth.

Thank God they didn't listen to some of the gloomy, but probably textbook-accurate, explanations of what could happen as Amanda got older.

She had visited Marco with her mom when just about 3-4 years old and stayed with me during February as a result of a flood at their home in New Hampshire. It was here in the warmth of the sun and the warm waters of the pool that Amanda made some significant progress with her strength and mobility issues. From that time on, she began blossom, both physically and intellectually and today it's hard to keep up with her.

Amanda was mainstreamed into the education system and received exceptional opportunities within the Waterville Valley, N.H., schools and went on to attend the Plymouth, N.H., high school right next door.

Yes, she did have some physical challenges, but overcame them to become just another kid in the school. She would work hard academically and participate in after-school events and enjoy her high school years and all the ups and downs.

Then came her senior year and her acceptance to the college of her choice, Southern New Hampshire University. Although the school was close to where they lived, she chose to live on campus this last year and is about to finish her first year as a freshman and a young independent woman. She's my hero and my little adopted niece.

• Now we come to this year and another young man I've known since his parents proudly made him a part of their family. Gage Wheeler is an outstanding young man who is again a product of the Marco educational system and went to Lely High School, where he will graduate this next month.

Gage and his other adopted brother, David, are proof positive that there are loving homes and families waiting to bring a child into their lives and give them the opportunities to excel in life and in the future. Once again I've had the privilege to watch as Gage Wheeler, son of Sandy and Duncan Wheeler, has excelled and chosen a path to propel him into the United States Air Force Military Academy. Like my friend Jordan, Gage has chosen one of the prestigious military academies, not because of who his parents may know, but instead for what he has accomplished in his 17 years.

Academically, he has risen to the challenges placed before him and never let adversity get him down and has excelled in his studies. Athletically, he has put in an Olympian effort that has paid off for not only his school, but on a personal level, winning many individual awards as well as participating in team efforts that propelled Lely into a powerhouse position within their district in track and field.

This year Gage was the Lely nominee for the coveted Winged Foot Scholar Athlete Award that recognizes the most outstanding student/athletes in each of the Collier County high schools. A committee consisting of Winged Foot Committee members and citizens then chose the one recipient for scholar of the year. Gage was chosen for that prestigious award, an honor he shares with only 24 other student/athletes since its inception in 1990.

We certainly wish him well when he and his dad take a couple of weeks to travel across the nation to the Air Force Academy in Colorado in June, and look forward to the day he once again participates in another graduation as a proud Air Force officer.

I've had the privilege to know many men and women in my life, but I think these three represent some of the best I've known. They've never let adversity stand in their way or failed to rise to the challenges of the moment.

Their future is bright, as is the future of this nation with young people such as Jordan, Amanda and Gage as representatives of this next generation to come.