In our annual look at high school graduation, The Columbian this year presents a cross-section of the diverse experiences and lives of the Class of 2018.
These are the stories of six students whose experiences have historically been underrepresented.
They are students of color, students with disabilities, students graduating from alternative high school programs and a recent immigrant to the United States. We hope you will enjoy their stories, below and on Pages A6-7, and join us in wishing the best for them and the rest of the Class of 2018.
Succeeding with humor, determination
Teresa Buchholz has navigated her high school experience with biting humor – sometimes literally. She once tried to tell her favorite teacher that a shark had eaten her arms as a baby.
“I can’t go a day without saying something really sassy,” she said.
But Teresa, 17, was born without arms. It’s something she’s faced at times with sarcasm, but always with the underlying goal of leaving Mountain View High School a little better than she found it.
“I’ve put myself out there to leave a mark on the school,” she said.
Teresa doesn’t consider herself disabled, and said not having arms isn’t “that big of a deal” anymore. But at times, Teresa has been teased by her classmates, or thought of herself as not worthy of success.
“It’s a mental barrier as much as a physical barrier,” she said.
But Teresa hopes her own experiences will inspire her fellow classmates not to give up in the face of adversity.
And indeed, she graduates this year boasting a full slate of academic and extracurricular successes. She’s taken a slew of Advanced Placement classes. She’s also a volunteer with the International Child Amputee Network, an organization pairing mentors and children who are missing limbs.
And this year, she caps four years on the school’s dance team. That’s posed a unique challenge, especially when the choreography her freshman and sophomore years called on the girls to wave pompoms. She rolled her eyes at the memory.
As captain this year, she had to figure out how to explain to her teammates how to move their arms in her own choreography without being able to show them herself.
“I definitely think they were thrown a curve ball,” she said.
Next year Teresa will attend Seattle University. She plans to pursue a career in law, education or psychology. And while she’s not sure what the future brings, Teresa thinks her past leaves reasons to be proud.
“I think I’ve inspired people to not give up on themselves,” she said.
— Katie Gillespie
A total turnaround
The Hockinson High School football team had just wrapped up another victory en route to an undefeated season and state title, and Julie and Jeff Barclay walked onto the field to speak to their nephew.
Tony Richardson, 18, was amped, saying that it was a great day. His aunt and uncle agreed, noting how well he had played in the game. Richardson wasn’t excited about just the game. He had also scored 100 percent on his world government test that day. The Barclays couldn’t believe it. Looking back, Richardson couldn’t either. It was something that didn’t seem possible just a year ago when he was living in Olympia.
“Back then, it was hard for me to get 100 percent on things,” Richardson said. “Once I came here, I was getting 100 percent on a lot of things, so I was just getting pumped, and I was like, ‘Yes, let’s keep doing this.’”
Richardson was living in Olympia with his mom and wasn’t enjoying school. He was unmotivated and often didn’t go to class. He was hanging out with friends who made bad decisions. He was lost.
His aunt called and told him he needed to turn things around to graduate, and that he could come live with her family for his senior year.
Richardson arrived in Hockinson in June 2017 and got to work right away. He took two credit recovery classes online during the summer while going to football practice. He took two more online credit-recovery courses during the school year in addition to his full class schedule, sports, band and work.
“It was just a busy schedule that I had to do,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was forced to do it. I enjoyed it.”
Now, Richardson is on pace to graduate and has a landscaping job lined up that he’s going to start a week after graduation. He found the job through Clark College’s WorkSource program, which he joined in April.
Richardson’s mother cries with happiness every time she talks to the Barclays about her son. For others who might be a bit adrift, Richardson said there’s always someone around willing to help. He tries to help others in Hockinson’s Life Skills program, where he tutors other students in math every day.
“Right now, I’m proud of myself,” Richardson said. “A year ago, I would’ve been like, ‘Who’s that guy? That’s not me.’ I’ve just completely changed.”
— Adam Littman
Finding strength in loss
Julia Basarab, 16, keeps her father with her wherever she goes in the form of a small photo of the pair of them tucked into her phone case.
Julia’s father, Alexander Basarab, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, when she was 12 years old. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes nerve cells to break down and die. Those who have ALS eventually lose their ability to control the muscles needed to move, speak, eat and breathe. There is no cure.
As his disease progressed, she and her father’s little routines disappeared. They used to go out for junk food after trips to the dentist. A talented musician, he’d wake his children up by playing piano on weekend mornings.
“I totally miss that,” she said.
Her father died this year.
Julia will graduate a year early from Summit View High School, Battle Ground Public Schools’ alternative high school. Next year, she’ll attend Corban University, a private college in Salem, Ore., where she intends to study forensic psychology.
Toward the end of his life, Julia’s father was moved into a full-time residential care facility. Summit View’s flexible schedule gave Julia more opportunity to visit with her father, and she and her siblings would frequently spend time with him.
It was after one of those visits that her sister told her how proud their father was of all she’s accomplished.
“It was really cool to hear that,” she said. “It gives me motivation to complete it.”
For Julia, who never felt like school quite fit, it was the push she needed to keep going.
“I have to do this now,” she said. “I have to graduate.”
— Katie Gillespie
A passion for working, helping
Brayden Oh can’t keep himself from representing his new employer, Fred Meyer. He wears his black T-shirt adorned with the company’s red logo with pride.
Brayden has autism, and has spent the last three years enrolled at Vancouver Public Schools’ Gateway to Adult Transition Education program, a school serving young adults up to age 21 with developmental disabilities. Students enroll in job training programs, do volunteer work and practice independent living skills. The goal is for students to leave the program with a job in place, and Brayden, 21, rose to the challenge.
“I’ve learned that not only do I have a good work ethic, but I work very hard volunteering,” Brayden said.
Still, it’s challenging to have a disability, Brayden said.
“Only you can control it,” he said. “But I just worked my way up and gained a lot of training and work experience.”
Brayden has also found satisfaction sharing his skills with his peers. He’s helped other students at the GATE Center write their résumés, build job-skills portfolios and train at job sites.
That’s just in his nature, Brayden said.
“Back when I was younger, I helped people,” he said. “I was always the nice guy. Always able to help when it was most needed.”
Prior to attending GATE, Brayden was a student at Skyview High School. There, he spent two years as a photographer for the yearbook.
“Those were always fun because I got to experience the moment,” he said.
Brayden also volunteers at his church, running slide shows and offering technical support where needed.
Eventually, Brayden plans to move out of his parents’ home in Salmon Creek and find his own apartment, and hopes to be promoted to checker at Fred Meyer. He’d also like to be an assistant at the GATE Center – after a break from the school, of course.
“I just want to continue working,” he said. “I’ll get back to it.”
— Katie Gillespie
A new language is no limit
Sindy Dominguez moved to Ridgefield in 2014 and started at Ridgefield High School shortly after, not knowing any other students or how to speak English.
A few months into her first semester, she was helping out in the main office and bringing some handouts to a classroom for the teacher to give to the class. The teacher said something, and Dominguez, now 19, didn’t understand. The whole class laughed.
“I was about to cry,” she said. “I will never forget that. I was more scared of speaking English or saying something wrong and they will laugh.”
Now, Dominguez said she sometimes lies down and thinks about how far she has come. Not only is she on pace to graduate this month and can speak English fluently, but she’s doing all this roughly 3,800 miles from her home of Guarajao, Honduras.
Dominguez, the youngest of nine, moved to Ridgefield to attend school. She lived with her older sister, who moved about a year before her to find work.
The rest of her family is back in Honduras. Her immigration status is pending in court.
After graduation, Dominguez plans on finding work to save money for college. She wants to work as a nurse or flight attendant, and thinks she would like to move back to Honduras one day.
Dominguez said the school helped out by providing her with tutors and putting her in a few classes with a student who spoke Spanish and could translate for her. Now, Dominguez is the student translating for others in class and out in the community.
She also works a few hours a week for a family in Ridgefield, cleaning the house and doing some gardening. She got the job through a friend, and when she started, she was so nervous about speaking English, she barely spoke. The man she was working for told her she had to practice her English, so she should talk more. Dominguez said the man started joking around with her, and now she’s more comfortable speaking to him.
“Now he says, ‘Sindy, sometimes I regret what I told you because now I can’t shut you up,’” Dominguez said.
— Adam Littman
A recipe for the future
For an aspiring baker like Destinee Navarro, living in a travel trailer provided some difficulties.
“We couldn’t really do pizzas because the oven was so much different than a regular oven,” Navarro, 19, said. “They don’t bake the same, but stove top dinners, you’re golden.”
Navarro moved to Woodland with her mom and four younger siblings about three years ago. The six of them lived in the trailer until January, when they moved into a house. Now Navarro is practicing her cooking skills at home, baking everything from treats for her siblings — one younger brother loves her Oreo cheesecake so much he said he’s going to marry it — to a cake for her teacher’s dog.
“It was mostly just peanut butter cake,” she said.
Navarro is set to graduate from Woodland’s TEAM High School program this month. She is also working her way through Cascadia Tech Academy’s culinary program, and hopes to one day open her own bakery.
“Most of it, I imagine, is going to be just breads,” she said. “Breads, breads, breads. French breads, baguettes, bagels, scones. I love breads.”
She was home-schooled in middle school, and when she found out about Woodland’s alternative high school program, she jumped at it. The program allowed her to do a lot of her work on the computer and at her own pace, but also meet regularly with teachers.
“I was really nervous to get into the high school,” she said.
“It was a perfect balance of in-between.”
After graduation, Navarro plans to take a year off from school to get more professional experience, and then wants to study business and baking in hopes of one day opening her bread-focused bakery. Since February, Navarro has gotten some professional food service experience by working at Papa Murphy’s.
She said Cascadia’s culinary program has helped her learn a variety of skills needed to work professionally, including knife skills, communications and customer service.
“They helped me so much with eye contact,” she said. “I could not look someone in the eye for more than five seconds two years ago.”
— Adam Littman