“Student of the Month” is a feature highlighting some of our area’s brightest young minds, what they’re doing and where they’re going. Know a student you think deserves a mention? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
One year ago, Qwynn Foster had just finished his sophomore year at Gibbs High School, but found himself without a place to stay after a bad spat with the grandmother he’d been living with.
“Honestly, I had a lot of places where I as a person needed to grow, and that just seemed like the wake up call that I needed,” he explains, looking back on that night.
Finding a bed at his aunt’s house, Foster spent the night asking himself serious questions about what he wanted to do with his life, and who he hoped to become.
The next day, he called his school’s counselor and told her he’d be graduating a year early.
One year later, he’s met that deadline and more. Donning his cap at 17, he’ll be heading off to Vanderbilt University in the fall to study neurology.
By the time he made that big decision, he’d already laid the groundwork for his early graduation by joining the dual enrollment program in just his freshman year, at one point taking classes not just at Gibbs, but at St. Petersburg College, Pinellas Technical College and Florida Virtual school, all at the same time.
“I actually got into a little struggle with the district, because I had too many college classes,” Foster said, laughing. “I didn’t know it was possible!”
In his sophomore year, he took 16 courses at once. Some days, his first class would start at 7 a.m., and his last would end at 10 p.m.
“People ask me like, ‘How was sophomore year?’ and I tell them I don’t really remember sophomore year. It was really like a fever dream.”
In spite of his busy schedule, he says he never felt out of place among his peers, or like he was accomplishing anything out of the ordinary.
“I just did what I felt was necessary for my life,” he said. “Like, I still was in lots of clubs and socialized with lots of people.”
“Lots” may be an understatement. Foster was elected president of student government, was social media manager for Future Business Leaders of America, chief officer of SADD, was in National Honor Society and National Technical Honor Society, was the student representative for the BETA Advisory Board, and competed on the wrestling team. He also writes poetry.
When it came time to give out superlatives this year, Foster won “most involved.”
He also knows that he didn’t make it this far alone, and gives special thanks to the women in his life, like his computer science teacher, Jennifer Tuazon.
“Ms. Tuazon is like a mother,” said Foster. “Since I have known her she has been one of my biggest supporters, through everything…. I cannot say that I did not have some low points, especially during this year. But Ms. Tuazon was always there to not only support me, but more importantly, tell me when I was wrong, and how I can do better.”
His other biggest supporter has been his great-grandmother, Johnnie May Woods, who helped raise him from a young age, and who passed away earlier this year.
“She was a fireball of a woman. She was everything that you could honestly imagine a very southern, spirited Black woman to be. She was powerful, she was opinionated, she could cook,” he said, laughing. “Just the amount of unwavering support from those two women are literally why I am here today.”
He also wants to give special thanks to his grandmother Rhonda, who he is living with again, a year after her show of tough love pushed him down this path.
“I feel like had she not kicked me out, I wouldn’t have gone through the growth that I’ve gone through. I most likely wouldn’t be going to Vanderbilt,” he said. “It was really that one moment right there, that really kick-started so much more.”
Q: If you had one piece of advice to give to a freshman, what would it be?
A: Create yourself. I find it weird how people say that we “discover ourselves.” I don’t believe that. I believe that we create who we want to be; we create our future.
Q: If you could tell everyone reading this one thing, what would it be?
A: If I could tell Gulfport anything, it would be to take time to love those who love you. I feel like so many times we overlook people’s love and their devotion to our future. But if we truly want to escape, you know, the hardships of life and like depression and just sadness, lean into your tribe. Lean into, you know, the people who love you.