Written By Josie Gulliksen
June 9, 2023 at 9:19 AM

Silver Knight winner Jordan Perez, from Christopher Columbus High School, reacts after winning in the Art category during the Miami Herald & El Nuevo Herald 65th Silver Knight Award Ceremony at the James L. Knight Center on Thursday, May 25, 2023, in downtown Miami, Fla. Photo credit: Matias J. Ocner, Miami Herald.

When high school seniors Ian Barnett of Ransom Everglades and Jordan Perez of Christopher Columbus High Schools heard their names called winners at this year’s Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald 65th Silver Knight Award Ceremony, they knew their hard work had paid off. Barnett won for Music and Dance and Perez for Art.

Barnett and Perez, were two of 750 nominees, “the largest number of nominees in history,” said Raymond Dueñas, manager of events & community affairs for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald who is in his sixth year overseeing the program as Knight Winner coordinator.

man in suit smiling, blue jacket, pink shirt dark hair with goatee

Raymond Dueñas, manager of events & community affairs for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. Photo credit: Matias J. Ocner, Miami Herald.

The future looks bright, says Dueñas boasting “I strongly feel that a Silver Knight winner or nominee will one day cure cancer and it’s not because I oversee the program. This award focuses on community engagement and how these students are making strides to help others.”

Dueñas goes on to say that “some of these kids are creating policy change, their own LLC and projects that go global. They implement sustainability to ensure that the juniors at their school and their siblings can carry these on.”

The application process is a rigorous and intense one. Students work with mentors to perfect their interview skills as well as gather all the necessary materials to best present themselves. It involves providing comprehensive information on community service projects as well as school involvement and academic success.

Perez and Barnett both give immense credit to their respective mentors in their crowning achievement of walking away with the prestigious Silver Knight Award. Both were instrumental in helping them craft their message about their service projects which are a key component of the application.

Ian Barnett, a student at Ransom Everglades, is one of two Silver Knight Award recipients for the Arts this year.

Barnett, who has been composing music for several years, said his main service project for his application “was a course I created and taught over the summer. The course was titled ‘Innovations in Composition Pedagogy’ and was designed to introduce young musicians to the world of composing. This course was inspired by my personal experiences as a composer.”

He used his experiences as a composer to create fun, engaging exercises that he felt “captured the essence of concepts such as melody and harmony without requiring extensive knowledge of music theory. By the end of the course, each student had created his or her short piece using the exercises done in class, some of which were performed on the last day,” Barnett said.

Encouraging him to apply and who he calls “my biggest mentor” was Jennifer Nero, a teacher, and head of the humanities department at Ransom Everglades. Ms. Nero assisted him in creating a curriculum that made sense. Even though she was unfamiliar with classical music at first, as the months progressed Ms. Nero became more acquainted with it and even began learning guitar.

“I am extremely grateful for her for encouraging me through the process, and for giving me that crucial teachers’ perspective,” said Barnett.

For Perez, it was a much faster process, two weeks to be exact, during which time Christoper Columbus’s Guidance Counselor and Silver Knight Coordinator Sylvie Galvez-Cuesta, guided him.

“I did mock interviews with teachers to prepare for that portion and Ms. Galvez-Cuesta helped me compile all of my information and put my entire package together,” said Perez.

As early as his freshman year at Columbus, Perez knew his passion was photography and videography. He began honing his skills that freshman year when he joined Columbus’s CCNN Live (Christopher Columbus News Network) and then midway through his sophomore year started his business Photos by Jordan P.

Silver Knight winner Jordan Perez, from Christopher Columbus High School, is photographed with Alex Mena, Interim Executive Editor of the Miami Herald & el Nuevo Herald, and Dana Banker, Senior Managing Editor of the Miami Herald, after winning in the Art category during the Miami Herald & el Nuevo Herald 65th Silver Knight Award Ceremony at the James L. Knight Center on Thursday, May 25, 2023, in downtown Miami, Fla.

“Photos by Jordan P is my photography and videography business that I turned into my service project by offering my services to nonprofit organizations that needed assistance with their social media or websites, as well as with capturing memories of events they held. I provided my services pro-bono,” said Perez.

With 15 categories and numerous nominees in each one, Dueñas says that “in any given year we can have 90 community leaders and many of them are former nominees and winners. The judges come back every year to judge and then going forward, keep in touch with them and mentor them for the future.”

Celebrating their 65th Anniversary, the Silver Knight Awards have evolved tremendously with more resources than ever available to the students. And for those students lacking access to all those resources “they reach out to who they have to reach out to. They go to committee hearings, etc.. and make it happen. It’s amazing the promise the kids have,” said Dueñas.

2023 Silver Knight winners Perez and Barnett are proof of that promise. Perez will be attending the University of Florida School of Journalism where he’ll be majoring in Media Production, Management, and Technologies, while Barnett will be heading to Princeton University where he has already begun making connections with a director of a youth orchestra nearby.

Barnett says he would love to return as a mentor to future Silver Knight applicants “to share my experience. To me, there is nothing more gratifying than sharing something that you are truly passionate about (composition in my case) with the world. I am extremely grateful to the Miami Herald for giving me this Award and look forward to a long relationship with them in the future.”

And Perez is still on cloud nine and recalls fondly that night when he was named a winner.

“It was unbelievable when they called my name. From the point where they said “photography and videography” when describing the winner for Art, I knew it was me. I was sitting next to several visual artists who paint and do sculpture so when I heard the description I knew. I am so incredibly grateful,” said Perez.

He now gets to attend college and live out his passion and what inspires him, which is making content no matter what it is, and sharing it with people.

And Barnett echoes those feelings saying, “To me, this award signifies not the end, but a stepping stone in my journey of spreading classical music to those around me and ultimately bettering my community.”

There’s no doubt Perez and Barnett will achieve success in their respective fields, similar to past winners like Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos and Build A Bear Founder Maxine Clark, and so many others before them.

Silver Knight Awards Sponsors: Knight Foundation, Baptist Health, Florida Power and Light, The Children’s Trust, Florida Blue, Florida International University, the Orange Bowl Committee, the Miami Marlins, and American Airlines. is a nonprofit source of dance, visual arts, music, and performing arts news. Sign up for our newsletter and never miss a story.

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