The 2024 Silver Knight winners announced at Miami gala honoring top high-school seniors

One student used artificial intelligence to map food insecurity and detect breast cancer.

Another student used her passion for theater to perform for children who were hospitalized.

A third created a nonprofit to support children who have an incarcerated parent.

Others developed community service projects to give meals to those experiencing homelessness; founded a virtual school to help children in Nicaragua and El Salvador learn English; and worked with a legal team that helps immigrants prepare for their asylum interviews.

Meet the 2024 Silver Knight winners

On Wednesday night, high school students, along their families, friends and teachers, gathered at the James L. Knight Center in downtown Miami for the 66th Annual Miami Herald/el Nuevo Silver Knight Awards ceremony. In total, 788 high school seniors from 77 Miami-Dade and 29 Broward public, charter and private schools were nominated by their schools for this year’s awards.

Students were dressed in long gowns, blazers, and sparkly dresses as they ascended the escalator of the James L. Knight Center on Wednesday evening leading up to the award ceremony. Many expressed that they were nervous.

Music from the North Broward Preparatory jazz band played as each winner’s project was described and then their name was called. Winners then took to the stage to accept their award.

Emily Moreno was sitting in her seat thinking that she was not going to win when they started describing an immigrant from Colombia. “I’m feeling super excited and grateful to be here,” said Moreno, who created a website that consolidates resources for immigrants. As an immigrant herself, she realized how difficult it can be to find information on things like scholarships, and wanted to make it easier for others. She will attend the University of Florida where she will study journalism.

Silver Knight winner Reo Gay, from Western High School, walks to the stage after winning in the Digital & Interactive Media category during the Miami Herald & el Nuevo Herald 66th Silver Knight Award Ceremony at the James L. Knight Center on Wednesday, May 22, 2024, in downtown Miami, Fla.
Silver Knight winner Reo Gay, from Western High School, walks to the stage after winning in the Digital & Interactive Media category during the Miami Herald & el Nuevo Herald 66th Silver Knight Award Ceremony at the James L. Knight Center on Wednesday, May 22, 2024, in downtown Miami, Fla.

Mayah Hamaoui’s sister said she was calculating her chances of winning in the car on the way to the event today, but still, she didn’t expect to win. She ended up with an honorable mention in the art category for her work with a nonprofit that serves the minority community.

Some of the winners were not the first in their families to receive an award. Caillah Molas received an honorable mention for the after school program she created that helps underprivileged girls in STEM. Her older sister was a winner in 2017.

“I’m very ecstatic,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d be called up today.”

The Silver Knight Awards have a long and illustrious history in South Florida with an impressive alumni list.

Previous winners have included Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who won the Silver Knight in Science in 1982 representing Palmetto High, and Ted Hendricks, a former University of Miami football standout and NFL Hall of Famer who won a Silver Knight in Athletics for Hialeah High in 1965. The newest U.S. Supreme Court justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, won an Honorable Mention in Drama as a Palmetto High senior in 1988.

All told, nearly 1,500 students have won Silver Knight Awards since the first class was nominated in 1959. John S. Knight, the former Miami Herald publisher, established the tradition to highlight the achievements of South Florida’s youth.

Silver Knight winner in the Athletics category, from Hialeah Gardens Senior High, Tristan Faedo, center, is photographed with his award next to Alex Mena, Executive Editor for the Miami Herald & el Nuevo Herald, left, and Denise Martinez, Vice President of Advertising for the Miami Herald & el Nuevo Herald, right, during the Miami Herald & el Nuevo Herald 66th Silver Knight Award Ceremony at the James L. Knight Center

“On the floor tonight, we have 788 of Miami-Dade and Broward counties’ elite high school seniors who have changed our community for the good,” said Alex Mena, executive editor of the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

The students are judged by professionals in 15 disciplines: art, athletics, business, digital and interactive media, drama, English & literature, general scholarship, journalism, mathematics, music & dance, science, social science, speech, vocational technical and world languages.

Many of the winners drew from their own life experiences to establish service projects to help their community or in some instances, national or global communities.

Joshua Martoma, the Silver Knight for Social Sciences from the Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, created a nonprofit that provides support for children who have incarcerated parents. He started it because he noticed the lack of services available to him while his father was in federal prison.

Diana Hughes, Silver Knight in Speech from Coral Reef High in Miami-Dade created a student-run, donation-based pantry filled with essential items after she heard that there were students in the foster care system at her school who lacked resources. Hughes herself was in foster care before she was adopted.

Some of the students were able to channel their passion for academics to benefit others. Aakash Suresh of Pembroke Pines Charter High who was Broward’s Silver Knight winner for Mathematics, leveraged his passion for computer science and machine learning to help a nonprofit fighting global hunger and poverty develop an AI-powered prediction model to better understand food insecurity.

Shilat Jayo-Acuna, Silver Knight winner in English & Literature from M.A.S.T. @ FIU Biscayne Bay Campus, shared her passion for writing by creating the Miami-Dade Public Library Writing Club, where she would help students from ages 8-18 with writing projects of all kinds, from essays to creative prose.

In addition to the 30 winners — 15 each in Miami-Dade and Broward — 90 other students were named Honorable Mentions.

The winners receive a $2,000 scholarship from the Herald Charities Foundation, and 25,000 AmericanAdvantage miles, good for one round-trip ticket in the continental U.S., courtesy of American Airlines. They also receive a medallion and a Silver Knight statue. The Honorable Mentions receive a $500 scholarship and an engraved plaque.