Wharton High Class of 2018 valedictorian Anthonia Elensi and salutatorian Sonile Peck have a lot in common.
Both went to Turner Elementary and Bartels Middle School before the schools were combined to become Turner-Bartels K-8 School.
They are both the youngest siblings in families with high achievers who previously graduated from Wharton in the top five percent of their respective classes.
Neither set out to have the highest Grade Point Average (GPA) in their graduating class, but once they realized they were on track, they kept doing what they were doing to stay at the top.
Both are getting ready to attend college and both plan to become doctors.
Anthonia and Sonile are both are widely respected for what may be the jewel in the crown of their high school careers — founding a Black Student Union at Wharton, which has become one of the school’s most popular clubs this year.
“We wanted to create a platform for black students to feel comfortable and have a community to be empowered,” Anthonia says.
They approached school librarian Rachel Shellman last year and asked her to sponsor the club.
Now, Shellman has nothing but praise for the pair. “They are phenomenal,” she says. “They have very strong leadership skills. They are both well spoken and they had a great year.”
She says the pair’s biggest success was planning the school’s first Black History Month celebration. They planned a school-wide event that Shellman says was very well received. “Students and teachers were very complimentary,” Shellman says. “No one knew what to expect for a first-time event, but they got a lot of positive feedback.”
Nearly 90 students joined the club, which Sonile and Anthonia say is a large one for Wharton, especially for one in its first year.
“Both young ladies are tremendous students – obviously, since they are valedictorian and salutatorian,” says principal Brad Woods. “But the way they were able to create the Black Student Union and grow its membership this year is also tremendous.”
Magda Rodriguez, the school’s college career counselor, who has been there since Wharton opened in 1997, says the pair are the first black, female valedictorian and salutatorian at the school.
“I don’t want my skin color to matter…,” begins Sonile. Anthonia finishes her sentence, “But it does matter.”
Last year’s Honor Court, which includes the Top 10 students in the school academically, had no black students. Anthonia and Sonile say the Black Student Union is a platform to help students do what they want to do, both academically and culturally.
As they graduate from Wharton, they are passing the torch to new leadership. Both hope that eventually, the club will include mentorship opportunities for its members. “If you can do something that can empower people of your skin color, you should,” says Anthonia.
In addition to the Black Student Union, both girls participated in clubs such as the National Honor Society and the Science National Honor Society at Wharton.
Sonile also participated in HOSA, the club for students who intend to be future health professionals that was previously called “Health Occupations Students of America.” Through this program, Sonile says she has prepared to take an exam in May to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). She says she thinks being a CNA will be a great job for her while she is attending college.
Anthonia and Sonile took a combination of high school classes, advanced placement (AP) classes and dual enrollment classes. Anthonia’s weighted GPA of 7.81 just edged out Sonile’s weighted GPA of 7.77. They both expect to have more than 60 college credit hours when they start their college careers this fall.
As for her Wharton experience, Anthonia says she’ll take with her a lot of memorable lessons, such as perseverance.
“At times where I felt like I was doing a lot both academically and with clubs,” she says, “I learned it’s important to finish what you start – and finish strong.”
Sonile was accepted to prestigious Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, the school of her dreams that she says motivated her to do her best throughout high school.
She is now looking at scholarships, which she says is the “harder part.” She also has been accepted at University of Florida in Gainesville, and will go there if it doesn’t work out for her to go to Johns Hopkins. Sonile hopes to one day be an oncologist.
If she does end up at UF, she’ll be there with Anthonia, who will attend the school to study health sciences, with the goal of becoming a doctor, although she’s not sure what field she wants to go into yet.
Sonile has some advice for younger students.
“Focus on the day to day,” she says. “Senior year is fun and exciting and eventful, but make sure you’re doing what you need to do right now.”
Congratulations to all of our graduating New Tampa high school students, whether at Wharton, Freedom or other public and private high schools. We will feature Freedom High’s Valedictorian Catherine Wang in our May 18 edition of New Tampa Neighborhood News.
2018 Wharton Top 10
1. Anthonia Elensi
2. Sonile Peck
3. Gregory Harvey
4. Stephen Maldonado
5. Yasmine Gillespie
6. Cameron Newborn
7. Alice Cheng
8. Rachel Hineline
9. Ashley Zack
10. Mackenzie Willman