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SCS Graduation 2023 Final

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Santa Cruz High valedictorian balanced distance learning with caring for ill mom SANTA CRUZ — Estrella Contreras had just a semester of high school under her belt when the world started to fall apart. The "early spring break" of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown in March 2020 spread from weeks to months, and eventually Estrella's entire sophomore year at Santa Cruz High School. While Estrella and her classmates were learn- ing to navigate online schooling, she expe- rienced an additional layer of stress during an otherwise time of great uncertainty. Estrella's mother was living with a hemorrhaging be- nign tumor that left her sleeping most of the day while her father, deemed an essential worker, was out trying to make ends meet for the family. Es- trella, in essence, became her mother's defacto caregiver and managed household chores for the family. "Hearing about how everybody else was sick with COVID, as well — it was very isolating but also helped to know that I wasn't alone because everybody else was sick," Estrella said. "It wasn't like I was missing out on anything. Like, 'Oh, I have to miss my homecoming because I have to take care of my mom.' There was nothing going on to begin with." Earning her top place Estrella, now 17 and about to graduate as class valedictorian, managed to main- tain straight-A grades throughout. She also became a member of the school's Literary Society, which oversees the school newspaper, "The Trident," and the Latino Student Union, and earned numerous awards and scholarships, including the Barbara J. Thompson Scholarship through the Community Foundation. Teacher Tyler Olson, who had Estrella for govern- ment, economics and the senior Advancement Via Individual Determination program, described his student as a "great stu- dent" who is kind, hum- ble and takes an active part in classes, as well. Olson said that Estrella was always at the top of her classes and was one of the few valedictorians he had taught. "Our AVID program serves mostly students of color and so it was really awesome to see the representation of Estrella there, because it was just something that I think was really impactful for a lot of her other AVID peers," Olson said. "So it was really awesome to see her get recognized in that way, for her hard work." Seated in a Santa Cruz High library chair re- cently, Estrella was fresh from completing her final exams and planned to attend UC Berkeley in the fall with an unde- clared major. While she has thrived in drawing and painting and shown a knack for physics and music, Estrella said she thought her college stud- ies ultimately would lead her to a career involving mathematics or engi- neering. "I think of myself as a mix between creative and analytical," Estrella said. "I like things to be straightforward, which is why I really enjoy math -- the straightfor- wardness, the struc- turedness. But I also really do like creativity and breaking outside of the norms. That's why I really enjoy art." Helping to build her fo- cus skills and also relax, Estrella said she taught herself how to play the guitar and bass — es- pecially Red Hot Chili Peppers — during the height of the pandemic. Learning time manage- ment and how to wall off "work" from "play" when her bed often served as her classroom was a big lesson of the lockdown, she said. "Going forward, I guess it kind of taught me the importance of time management. Because, I think being at home, you get really distract- ed and it's very easy to decide, 'Oh, I don't want to show up to class or I'm not going to do my assignments because it's a computer click away,'" Estrella said. "I think, going forward, also knowing the importance of having a workspace and separat- ing home and work." Extra challenges arise Yanet Rivera, Estrella's mother, described herself as blessed for having "such an awesome kid." "In ninth grade, she was hoping to get into a good college and that was her goal and she did it," Rivera said. "And then COVID hap- pened, but that didn't stop her from being motivated and determined and she saw where she was going." Asked to recount her how daughter overcame the struggles of essentially home-schooling during the pandemic, Rivera said she honestly was not able to witness a large part of her daughter's journey. "I know that everyone's world was stopping because of COVID, but mine was also just stopping and getting very bleak because I was very sick. I was only awake for like an hour a day," Rivera said. "She would wake me up to feed me and give me my medication and then I would go back to sleep and she would go back to COVID school." "She just had some motivation in her and she just pretty much did it all herself," Rivera added, choking up with emotion. Santa Cruz High School's 2023 valedictorian Estrella Contreras plans to attend UC Berkeley in the fall. (Jessica A. York -- Santa Cruz Sentinel) C ong r a t u l ati on s C l a s s o f 2023 ! Congratulations UNR Bound Love – Mom & Dad Indy Gilbert San Lorenzo Valley High To my son, Mikey CongraTulaTions on your 2023 Aptos High School graduation! I wish you all the confidence that life will bring you on the next chapter of your life Take risks carefully, listen to your big heart just like your father. Have fun on all your adventures. Remember I am so very proud of you and your accomplishments and the strong young man you've become. Who loves you? Mom. C ong r a t u l ati on s C l a s s o f 2023 ! Sc o tt s V a ll e y H i g h S c ho o l Congratulations on reaching a great milestone in your life. Enjoy it! We are proud of you and wish you even greater success at UC San Diego! Love, Mom, Dad, Isabella, Julia, Grandmas Bev & Gail, and Aunts, Uncles, Cousins Emma Dyc-O'Neal By Jessica A. York jyork@santacruzsentinel.com First-generation graduate to attend San Francisco State University SANTA CRUZ -- Whether she's acing advanced placement calculus, nailing a cheer routine, performing tradition- al folklorico dance, or speaking at her gradu- ation, first-generation Santa Cruz High School graduate Nadia Gomez Cruz is inspired and driven by the sacrifices made by her parents, who moved from Oaxa- ca, Mexico, when she was just a baby. "I would definitely say that they are very proud," said Gomez Cruz. "As their only child, and be- cause they couldn't com- plete their studies, I'm not only graduating for me, but for my parents too. They've always been by my side and when I walk the stage, I'll feel like they're graduating with me." Starting as a freshman at Santa Cruz High School during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was challenging for Gomez Cruz and her classmates, but she found solace in her struggles by perform- ing traditional Oaxacan dance, which she has practiced since she was very young through the local nonprofit Senderos. "That's my way of coping with things," said Gomez Cruz. "When I was little, my mom wanted me to be able to connect to my roots and kind of forced me to go into dance. I started when I was like 6 years old and at first I would cry when she dropped me off, but eventually I ended up loving it." In addition to allowing her to dance through tough times, perform- ing folklorico dance allows Gomez Cruz to understand the cul- ture her parents grew up in without having to travel to Mexico. Through Senderos, she has performed at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, on Pacific Avenue for Santa Cruz Dance Week, Guelaguet- za celebrations in San Jose and Sacramento, and at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. Having committed to attending San Francisco State Uni- versity, she hopes to find a similar folklorico dance group in the big city. "I really don't want to leave that part of me here," said Gomez Cruz. "I want to be able to con- tinue with it even after high school." Gomez Cruz's love of music and movement ex- tends beyond traditional Mexican dance. She has been on the cheer squad at Santa Cruz By Aric Sleeper asleeper@santacruzsentinel.com Recent Santa Cruz High School graduate and Senderos dancer Nadia Gomez Cruz performs traditional folklorico dance for Santa Cruz Dance Week. (Credit: Nadia Gomez Cruz) Continued on page 2

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