Each spring at Commencement, Shorecrest names an Outstanding Senior. This student represents all of the best characteristics of a Shorecrest student: leadership, scholarship, mentorship and service. Peninah Benjamin, the 2016 Outstanding Senior, is a National Honor Society member, an Anne Frank Humanitarian Award recipient for her work with juvenile diabetes patients abroad, one of the first members of the Shorecrest Honor Council, a decorated runner and a National Championship sailor. Despite, or perhaps because of, all of her accomplishments, Peninah almost missed her high school graduation.
“Once we [the sailing team] made it through Districts and qualified for Finals, by the time the team got off the water the parents were already making flights and dinner reservations [for the National Finals trip],” Peninah recalls. “My dad was like, ‘Woah, it’s graduation weekend.’”
Peninah had a tough decision to make - sail at Nationals or attend graduation. Adding perhaps more weight to the decision was her role in the commencement ceremony as the Outstanding Senior Award recipient and the closing graduation speaker.
Torn between two momentous events, Peninah delayed her decision as long as possible, but ultimately chose to attend graduation with her class. She recalls, “We worked hard and I love sailing, but I’ve also worked really hard in school the past four years and through Middle School. I couldn't imagine not being at graduation.” With the decision made, Peninah sailed with her team on Saturday then returned home Saturday evening so she could attend Sunday’s Commencement ceremony.
For her, graduation weekend flew by much too quickly. While some students bemoan the time commitment for a Friday graduation rehearsal, Saturday Baccalaureate and class dinner, and Commencement on Sunday, Peninah is sad that she was involved in only a few hours of the fanfare.
“I was talking to my friends before graduation saying, ‘This doesn’t feel real.’ I missed rehearsal and the college T-shirt photo and Baccalaureate and the dinner, so my friends were more prepared. Sunday morning I just showed up at school and three hours later it was over. It all happened so fast. I’m glad I was here for graduation.”
Although Peninah grew up attending Pinellas County Jewish Day School, she knew she would go to Shorecrest for high school. “All of my cousins went here. The Millers, the Shers, my dad’s sister. We even had a lot of the same teachers.” But as her kindergarten class of about 20 students dwindled to just 10 in sixth grade, the Day School closed and Peninah came to Shorecrest earlier than anticipated. “I ended up coming in seventh grade. It was nice that Sarah, Ari, Jack, Hannah - a core of us from my old school - were here. 80 students in a grade was big for me and I liked that.”
Before seventh grade classes even began, Peninah was a Charger athlete. “When I came to Shorecrest in seventh grade, cross country practice began in August before school even started. My mom dropped me off and I didn’t want to be here. Alice Darrow ‘15 and Katherina Fucci ‘15 came over and said, ‘Welcome to the team, let’s run.’ And I was excited because they were older and still so nice to me.”
Winning athletic awards and facilitating new friendships aside, her experience in Shorecrest athletics has been hugely influential to Peninah. “I remember when I was in eighth grade and tenth graders who I ran with would see me during school and say hi to me and I thought they were the biggest superstar role models! I remember how the senior leaders treated me, and when I see younger runners I remember how much of an impact that had on me.”
During her sophomore year, Shorecrest’s Upper School implemented its first student-run Honor Council. After undergoing a multi-step selection process involving administration, faculty and the student body, Peninah was one of three sophomores elected to the Council. She provided valuable input in the deliberations of each case and was elected co-President senior year by the Council.
“I like that we’re combined with the Disciplinary Committee [made up of faculty members] because we work together. We can justify things as students, and the teachers give their side. I like the balance.”