Finding a Path « Special Projects

Five Clark County high school graduates celebrate their triumphs after years of on-and-off learning and socializing

JAlthough the return to in-person education after the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic has still been marked by disruption, students in the Class of 2022 are talking about their senior year as if it were rebirth.

Waves of absences, staffing shortages, and less-than-ideal experiences with blended learning aside, this year’s seniors couldn’t have been more excited to just see each other again.

As graduation approaches, a degree means more than just academic resilience. For this class, high school was a crash course in the unpredictability of life itself. Even so, these graduates are ready for their next challenge.

Trinity Sylvester-Mahone

School: Fort Vancouver High School and Cascadia Technical Academy

And after: Dentistry at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge

Not so long ago, Trinity Sylvester-Mahone didn’t know if there was any light at the end of the tunnel.

Growing up without a consistent adult role model in and out of various homes, Sylvester-Mahone struggled to find a way to make things work. The inconsistency, she said, often made her feel hopeless and neglected.

“In college and freshman year at Fort Vancouver, I was fighting, I was doing; I’m not focused on what I’m supposed to be here for,” she said. “I needed to turn around. I realized that I had a story to tell.

She started to shake things up in the second grade — even as the pandemic brought the year to a halt — and became interested in attending a historically black college or university.

The vision was clear. Until she faced another tragedy in January 2021 – the death of her 15-year-old cousin as a result of gun violence. Distraught and confused about how something so horrible could happen to such a good child, Sylvester-Mahone dropped out of school for about a month and lost sight of her newly established goal.

But then, again, she had a moment of clarity.

“I realized it was selfish,” she said. “If I give up again, then I give up too. I have to keep pushing.

And she pushed. Sylvester-Mahone got a job outside of school, committed to her grades, and enrolled in the part-time dentistry program at Cascadia Technical Academy in the afternoons.

Today, she looks forward to attending Southern University and A&M College in Louisiana next fall, where she can begin a new chapter of total independence. The road, she says, has been long and winding, but it has matured her beyond her years.

“You have to prepare for the worst,” Sylvester-Mahone said. “Storms don’t last forever.”

Zachary Borghello

School: Skyview High School

And after: Mechanical Engineering at Washington State University in Vancouver

Zachary Borghello is the furthest thing from a quitter.

Since being diagnosed with autism at a young age, Borghello has struggled to find confidence in his voice and self-expression – a reality that many who only recently met him would never have. guess.

For each of the past two years, Borghello has participated in Skyview’s BOLT program — essentially a kind of TED talk for students to gain confidence in public speaking and performance.

His speech this year centered on his return from a knee injury that had prevented him from pursuing one of his favorite hobbies: martial arts.

“Martial arts help me release stress, regulate my emotions,” Borghello said. “During these three months of recovery, I felt stress, sadness, disappointment because this outlet was so important.”

Reflecting on the adversity he faces and delivering the speeches themselves, he said, has done wonders for his self-confidence and enabled him to take on more leadership roles. .

Borghello is also a proud member of the Stormbots—Skyview robotics competition team. His main role, he said, is to identify the strengths of others and empower them so that they too have confidence in themselves.

Throughout the school, Borghello’s presence as a guiding light of positivity and inspiration rubbed off on others.

In the fall, he will attend Washington State University in Vancouver, where he hopes to study mechanical engineering on a $2,000 scholarship – the Leaders in Social Change award – for which his director, Andy Meyer, named him.

“I learned to be authentic, that I’m able to show who I am with confidence,” he said. “Even with my autism, I’m so happy that I was able to feel included in so much. It makes me so proud of myself.

Ina Ding

School: Union High School

And after: Data Science at Duke University

It’s hard to believe that Ina Ding doesn’t have more than 24 hours in a day.

Tennis. Science class after school. Upper Class Council. A job at Chick-fil-A. Club key. A local group of young people working in the field of drug prevention. The list could literally go on and on.

So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit when Ding was in second grade, she couldn’t help but feel like she didn’t know what to do with all that time for herself.

“I just didn’t know how much I was supposed to do and how active I needed to be,” Ding said. “Like, ‘Am I productive?’ I always felt like I was behind.”

Wanting to keep busy, Ding took up baking as a hobby that she has always loved. Between classes and throughout the day, she monitored and walked through different stages of the cooking of the products, usually macaroons.

Soon people in the community started asking her if she would sell them. A little uncomfortable accepting money from family friends, Ding decided to donate the proceeds to PeaceHealth — specifically their COVID unit.

Since the start of the pandemic, she estimates the hobby – now better known as “Ding’s Delights” has raised around $5,500.

Ding plans to study data science across the country at Duke University in the fall. There, she’ll be looking to keep the momentum going in various new ventures — though she wants to remind everyone that’s not all the work in her world.

“I think on paper I sound very intense,” Ding said. “But I really feel like a laid-back person. I have a lot to do, but I really love nothing more than taking my time and being in the moment.

Maggie Hickey

School: Battle Ground High School

And after: Pursuing Theater at Clark College

The doors at Battle Ground High School are quite heavy.

“They are huge. Opening them is not just a struggle for students with disabilities, but for all students,” said Maggie Hickey.

Hickey, who has cerebral palsy, raised the issue with his principal and administration, advocating that every entrance and exit to the school be ADA certified. Quickly, she says, they listened and put up push buttons at each of the entrances to the school.

“It was a huge accomplishment not just for me, but for everyone,” Hickey said. “I really want to continue doing this kind of advocacy work.”

Along with a passion for much-needed improvements to accessible infrastructure, Hickey said her final years of high school were dominated by fulfilling a dream she had had since age 12: to become an actress.

A self-proclaimed Disney kid at heart, Hickey began taking drama classes at Battle Ground High School in second grade. A lover of comedy, she has referenced Adam Sandler’s goofy charisma as a personal favorite and inspiration in her classes.

“It definitely knocked me out of my shell,” Hickey said. “I’ve always been shy and I always hate speaking in front of people. But you have to make yourself believe that you can do it.

After more than a year of remote learning, a return to the stage was electrifying for Hickey, who was exhausted from spending time indoors.

Drama classes, she said, have been an amazing way to embrace her peers and overcome her shyness. In the fall, Hickey plans to study graduate theater at Clark College.

“It’s surreal. It’s nerve-wracking to finally see it all come to an end,” Hickey said with a smile. “It’s like a gift.”

Andy Santos

School: Henrietta lacks health and biosciences secondary school

And after: Nursing and Health Sciences at the University of Washington

Although he’s a bit of a social butterfly, Andy Santos isn’t one to feast on the limelight.

When he found out via text that he had been named senior of the year at his school, Santos didn’t believe it.

“Hearing that I wasn’t just being recognized by my peers, but also by the staff was saying a lot,” Santos said. “It comforted me to know that I had been able to establish such a good relationship with them.”

But even though he beams with pride these days, Santos credits a long string of embarrassing failures to where he is today.

When he was 15, Santos entered a wrestling tournament in Las Vegas. In only his second match of the tournament, he found himself up against a nationally ranked contender.

Chaos ensued.

“I’ve never been so beaten in my life,” Santos said with a laugh. “It wasn’t even 20 seconds, maybe more like 15.”

A clip from the match has gone viral online – but rather than wallow in his embarrassment, Santos looks back on the moment and laughs. More than anything, he said, it’s a testament to how far he’s come — both in his ability to process it and literally, as a wrestler.

So whether it’s wrestling, violin or pursuing a degree in nursing, Santos said there’s a certain humility in tackling things that have a steep learning curve.

It’s lessons like these that make him who he is today and one he wants to continue to build on for years to come.

“I used to have horrible impostor syndrome,” he said. “I still think I’m not worthy of the achievements. But I’m starting to realize that it’s good to be proud of myself, and it’s good to take the time to improve.

Kristen T. Prall