Ernest Fernandez Jr. Scholarship recipients Camila Rubiano and Daven Mejica with Matt Lettelleir, Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce CEO, and Melissa Snively, former school board chair and past chamber chair. (Photo credit: Linda Chion.)

Former school board member Melissa Snively, at the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce’s awards event earlier this year, announced the three recipients of the scholarship named posthumously for Ernest Fernandez Jr., who like Snively is a past chamber chair.

Fernandez died in December 2021 at age 83, leaving behind a career in education that spanned 42 years with the Hillsborough County school district, where he worked as a teacher, principal and administrator, with an eventual focus on adult and community education.

In his memory, Brandon High School graduates Camila Rubiano, Daven Mejica and Sebastian Rodriguez each received a $1,000 scholarship.

Captain of her basketball team and a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the National Honor Society, Rubiano accounted for 122 volunteer hours and a weighted 6.07 grade point average (GPA) in her scholarship application. Accepted to Florida International University, her plans were to study international business. For Rubiano, the scholarship “represents a gateway to a brighter future,” as it enables her “to overcome financial barriers, pursue academic goals and contribute to society in a meaningful way.”

Mejica, as an executive officer in the JROTC and squad commander of the drill team, earned a weighted 6.94 GPA and was salutatorian for the class of 2023. Active with Future Business Leaders of America and his church youth group, Mejica was also president of the National Honor Society, and a STEM ambassador and National Oceanic Science Bowl participant. Mejica was accepted to the University of South Florida, where he plans to study medicine.

Rodriguez was not at the June 8 business awards ceremony held on the Brandon campus of Hillsborough Community College. He received his scholarship on August 7 at Brandon High. Present were Principal Jeremy Klein; Brandon Campus President, and this year’s chamber chair, Deborah Kish Stephan; and chamber representatives with Interim Superintendent Van Ayres for a back-to-school greeting.

Active in student government and the Black Student Union, Rodriguez was a teacher assistant in the guidance department and helped out in the office as an administrative assistant. According to school counselor Jennifer Ritz, Rodriguez contributed greatly to mental health advocacy days, working alongside the school’s social worker and other students. Ritz, in her application letter, said that she could “state without reservation that Sebastian will be a strong asset to any organization or institution of higher education of which he becomes a part.”

Diagnosed with autism at an early age, Rodriguez said in his application letter that it has been a challenge, but not impossible, to achieve many things in life, including an education. His goal is to help others like himself.

“By teaching others in the spectrum population how to maneuver society and life, I will have accomplished what I know is my purpose in life,” Rodriguez said.

His plans are to study music at Hillsborough Community College.

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