What a difference eight years made

Daniel Rusiecki is headed to Brescia University in Kentucky.

BY DEXTER MCCREE, Feature Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Single mom Kaleesa Dorn and her 10-year-old son woke up one summer morning and headed off to his first day of summer camp. As a protective mom, she was apprehensive about leaving her child even though the camp came with excellent reviews about its leadership curriculum and the daily field trips to areas that exposed young minds to things many had never experienced.

“I just knew Daniel would have a great experience, learn a lot, and develop into the leader that the camp promoted,” Dorn said. “But o’ baby!”

To Daniel Rusiecki, nothing was exciting about going to Caleb’s Motivational Camp. He had other thoughts about the way his summer should play out. The last thing he wanted to do was leave his mother and spend all day with strangers. He held onto her leg for dear life, protesting and clinging onto the car, determined not to leave her side.

What a difference eight years made. Last Wednesday, Daniel walked across the stage as a Boca Ciega High School graduate, preparing to travel 850 miles to Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky., where he will attend on a basketball scholarship.

Daniel graduated magna cum laude with a 3.8 weighted grade point average. He intends to major in English with and minor in film.

“I am very thankful for my mother accepting nothing less than the best in me,” said Daniel. I am very excited to be continuing my education at the college level. My goal is to do great things while in college that will make a difference for years to come. All good things, of course.”

Daniel appears to be motivated by the underdog role. In the ninth grade, he was cut from the basketball team. Determined to impress Coach Shuman, Daniel spent his summer working out and traveling with an AAU basketball team to improve his skills.

The following year, he returned for tryouts with confidence and joined the Boca Ciega Pirate basketball team. For the next three years, he played varsity and improved each year.

When he arrived at The Boca Ciega, he noticed there wasn’t a platform to address racial equality, so he started the Fighting Against Inequality & Racism (F.A.I.R.) club, which has approximately 30 members.

“When I realized that there were no clubs on campus towards racial equality, I felt it was my duty to at least start this club, which is open to all students. We discuss racial discrimination, implicit and explicit bias, and injustice just to name a few,” explained Daniel.

He has a big heart, probably the result of being well-grounded in his spiritual faith. He is a member of Bay Vista Church of Christ and is active in the youth ministry. Daniel smiles when he tells the story of feeding a homeless man, and after the gentleman thanked him, he gave him some encouraging words.

He enjoys volunteering, helping with food drives, and working community events. He volunteered for Transformed Community Unity Day as part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service; Angel Care assisted living facility, Police Athletic League, and Caleb’s Motivational Camp.

As evidenced by his grade point average, Daniel is a high achiever, graduating from Boca’s Medical Magnet program and as a member of the National Honor Society.

Years of development have made a difference in Daniel. No longer is he the timid little boy holding on to his mother and afraid to go to an unknown location. Now, he is the extraordinary achiever who mentors his younger brother, has made his mother proud, and now is headed to Brescia University in Kentucky.

From his first apprehensive day of summer camp to entering college, what a difference those eight years made.

To reach Dexter McCree, email dmccree@theweeklychallenger.com

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