The Class of 2018’s Senior Spotlights


Rachel Slay, Staff Writer


Gaither’s halls are home to hundreds of students, teachers and staff members every day. Yet among this seemingly infinite crowd, there are few faces that are familiar to everyone, even if you don’t know them well. Here’s a little bit of information about five standout seniors you’ll wish you knew after they graduated.


Bailey Walman

Photo courtesy of Bailey Walman

Bailey Walman moved to Tampa from St. Pete when he was five years old. He discovered he had a knack for acting when, one day, he took over as the teacher of his third-grade class.

Walman remembers he was telling his friends about a movie when his teacher asked if he would like to get up and teach the class. Walman proceeded to accept the invitation, walk up to the board and teach his class.

“I got detention three times in third grade… that’s where my acting career began,” he said.

Walman is an avid thespian, with his first experiences in the world of theatre being at Gaither. Since then, he has played lead roles in school plays and professional shows taking place at the Patel Observatory at the Straz Center. Some of these roles were: Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables”, Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” and Charlie Brown in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”.

He is thankful for the opportunities the theatre program at Gaither has given him. Walman says he wouldn’t be where is today without William Albritton, theatre director, and Debbie Cleveland, vocal director of Gaither’s three choruses.

His highest thanks, however, goes to God.

“[I] always sing for the Lord before the stage,” said Walman.

Walman plans to continue performing while he pursues a degree in Fine Arts and Education. As someone who consistently takes on the characteristics of fictional people, he promotes self-confidence and assurance.

“Be the best version you can be of you. Don’t let someone tell you otherwise,” says Walman.


  • Donovan Jennings:
Photo courtesy of Donovan Jennings

Donovan (aka “Dono”) Jennings, in all his six-foot-five-inches-homecoming-king glory, was born right here in Tampa. He has participated in a plethora of clubs and sports teams but found his true place on the football field.

After only two high school seasons, Jennings is attending the University of South Florida, where he will be playing NCAA Division I Football, on scholarship, as an offensive lineman.

Jennings is known for trying to make people around him laugh, inside and outside of school. He finds that as he walks through the hallways of Gaither he is greeted by students in all grades and groups.

Jennings tries to associate himself with people outside of the senior class and the ‘popular’ circle. He believes that this is one way to gain perspective on other people’s lives.

“If you’re always hanging around the ‘cool’ people, you don’t really get to understand the other side of things,” said Jennings.

As Jennings looks back on his years as a Cowboy, he remembers when, as an underclassman, he looked up to the older students. He is humbled with the knowledge that he has become a role model for the new underclassmen.

Jennings encourages incoming freshman and current students to take their time and appreciate the moments they have now.

“After high school, all you’re going to do is work until you’re 62 and retire. Enjoy the four years… don’t rush through it. Enjoy being with all your friends because after high school, you won’t be with a lot of them,” he said.


  • Jill Dowden:
Photo courtesy of Jill Dowden

Jillian Dowden is an athletic and academic powerhouse. Dowden has played soccer since she was four years old. She played all four years at Gaither and served as a captain her junior and senior seasons.

Dowden is very competitive academically as well. She is graduating ranked seventh in her class and is planning to play club soccer while she attends the University of Florida.

“I took a total of nine AP [Advanced Placement] classes. During this year I took six dual enrollment classes…and I took one before school started over the summer,” she said.

Dowden had very specific motivation for her scholastic successes. Growing up, she was always compared to her older brother. Coupling that with her strong desire to break the “dumb blonde” stereotype, she had a recipe for academic excellence.

“I wanted to be better [than my brother] and… pridefully, wanted to show people that I wasn’t just another stupid blonde,” said Dowden.

While Dowden has had great successes during her four years at Gaither, she made a mistake this past fall that taught her a very important lesson.

After serving a five day Out-of-School Suspension earlier this school year, Dowden says that the decisions she made, and the outcomes of her choices, will always be in the back of her mind as she goes on to college. She hopes that her circumstance will set an example for the possible effects underage drinking can cause.

“I learned that actions really do have consequences and when something like that happens, you find out… who is really there for you, no matter what,” Dowden said.


  • Christian Legagneur:
Photo courtesy of Christian Legagneur

Christian Legagneur is a Florida native, having spent most of his elementary and middle school years here in Tampa.

Legagneur has a bright personality and talks to everyone he can, greeting them with a smile. He makes a point to “keep his seed sown” in every group of people he associates with.

When he looks at the underclassmen, he is fascinated at the similarities between the activities he and his friends used to do all the time. Just as he used to take “mental notes of people” when he was a freshman, he witnesses the same thing happening from the opposite end of the spectrum.

“After school we would go to Taco Bell for a couple hours then go play basketball at the YMCA. Every time I go back, I see the same thing… it’s like we took a time machine,” said Legagneur.

Legagneur is notorious for his throwback fashion choices, so much so that they won him two senior notable awards at prom: “Best Dressed” and “Born in the Wrong Decade”.

“I am myself all the time and… I try to open peoples’ minds to what is okay [to wear],” he said.

He enjoys pushing limits of what’s acceptable to wear at school and will keep doing so as he continues his education at Florida Gulf Coast University. As he leaves Gaither, he hopes that the students will be confident and bold in everything they do.

“Anything you want to do… if you want to wear something, wear it. If you want to talk to a certain somebody, do it. I know there’s a lot of pressure but… [eventually,] you won’t care what other people think,” Legagneur said.


  • Raina Sparks:
Photo courtesy of Raina Sparks

Raina Sparks was born in El Paso, Texas and moved to Florida at the age of two. She attended three different elementary schools in the Tampa area before settling at Walker Magnet for middle school.

Sparks’ experiences at Gaither High School have been music-oriented and academically focused. She has been a part of the Marching Cowboys all four years and Wind Ensemble, the top-level concert band, playing the French horn, since her sophomore year. She is also a member of Beta and Tri-M, two clubs that have strict academic requirements.

Sparks spent her final year in the Marching Cowboys as drum major. In this leadership position, she learned how to lead and encourage teamwork and how to establish attainable goals.

With the spotlight trained on her, she came to a quick realization that you can’t be afraid to talk to people and, sometimes, you can’t always say exactly what you’re thinking.

“You have to, kind of, keep it together. If we were to always say exactly what we’re thinking, people can take things the wrong way… they won’t really know what you mean. And that’s how drama starts,” she explained.

Sparks found her closest friends and is thankful for the strong relationships she has formed in band. She credits her positivity and intentional kindness with making high school just a bit easier to bear.

Sparks leaves her fellow Cowboys with one simple piece of advice: “Show up and have positive interactions with everyone…everything will end up being okay. Disagreements will happen, but, just forgive and forget.”