Five Clark County high school graduates celebrate their triumphs after years of stop-and-start learning and socialization
Though the return to in-person education from chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic was still wrought with disruptions, students from the Class of 2022 speak about their senior year as if it were the renaissance.
Waves of absences, staffing shortages and less-than-ideal experiments with hybrid learning aside — this year’s seniors couldn’t have been more excited to simply see each other’s faces again.
With graduation inching closer, a diploma means more than just academic resiliency. To this class, high school has been a crash course in the unpredictability of life itself. Even so, these grads are ready for their next challenge.
School: Fort Vancouver High School & Cascadia Technical Academy
What’s next: Dentistry at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge
It wasn’t long ago that Trinity Sylvester-Mahone wasn’t sure if there was 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, made her often feel hopeless and overlooked.
“In middle school and as a freshman at Fort Vancouver, I was fighting, acting up; just not focused on what I’m supposed to be here for,” she said. “I needed to turn it around. I realized I have a story to tell.”
She started to get things rolling as a sophomore — even as the pandemic interrupted the year — and became interested in attending college at 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 as to how something so horrible could happen to such a good kid, Sylvester-Mahone dropped out of school for a month or so and lost sight of her newly established goal.
But then, yet again, she had a moment of clarity.
“I realized, this is selfish,” she said. “If I give up again, then I’m giving up on him, too. I need to keep pushing.”
And push she did. 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’s looking forward to attending Southern University and A&M College in Louisiana next fall — where she’ll be able to start a new chapter of total independence. The road, she said, has been long and winding, but it’s made her mature beyond her years.
“You gotta prepare for the worst,” Sylvester-Mahone said. “Storms don’t last forever.”
School: Skyview High School
What’s next: Mechanical engineering at Washington State University Vancouver
Zachary Borghello is the farthest thing from a quitter.
Since being diagnosed with autism at a young age, Borghello has struggled with finding confidence in his voice and self-expression — a reality that many who have only met him recently would never have guessed.
In each of the last two years, Borghello has participated in Skyview’s BOLT program — essentially a TED Talk of sorts for students to find confidence in public speaking and performance.
His speech this year centered on his comeback from a knee injury that prevented him from continuing one of his favorite hobbies — martial arts.
“Martial arts help me release stress, regulate my emotions,” Borghello said. “During those three months of recovery, I felt stress, sadness, disappointment because that outlet was so important.”
Both the act of reflecting on the adversity he’s faced and giving the speeches themselves, he said, has done wonders for his self-confidence and allowed him to embrace more roles in leadership.
Borghello is also a proud member of the Stormbots — Skyview robotics competition team. His main role, he said, is identifying other people’s strengths and empowering them so they, too, feel confident in themselves.
Throughout the school, Borghello’s presence as a guiding light of positivity and inspiration has rubbed off on others.
In the fall, he will attend Washington State University Vancouver, where he hopes to study mechanical engineering with the help of a $2,000 scholarship — the Leaders in Social Change Award — that his principal, Andy Meyer, nominated him for.
“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 I’ve been able to feel included in so many things. It makes me feel so proud of myself.”
School: Union High School
What’s next: Data science at Duke University
It’s hard to believe that Ina Ding doesn’t have more than 24 hours in a day.
Tennis. After-school science tutoring. Senior class council. A job at Chick-fil-A. Key Club. A local youth group working in substance abuse prevention. The list could quite literally go on and on.
So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit when Ding was a sophomore, she couldn’t help but feel like she didn’t know what to do with all this time to herself.
“I just didn’t know how much I was supposed to do and how active I should be,” Ding said. “Like, ‘Am I being productive?’ I was always feeling like I was falling behind.”
Itching to stay busy, Ding started to make a hobby out of something she’s always loved: baking. In between classes and throughout the day, she’d monitor and walk through different steps of baking goods, typically macaroons.
Soon enough, people in the community started asking if she’d sell them. A bit uncomfortable with accepting the money from family friends, Ding decided to donate the proceeds to PeaceHealth — particularly to their COVID unit.
Since the start of the pandemic, she estimates the hobby — now better known as “Ding’s Delights” has raised about $5,500.
Ding is planning on studying data science across the country at Duke University in the fall. There, she’ll look to keep momentum going in various new endeavors — though she wants to remind everyone that it’s not all work in her world.
“I think on paper I seem very intense,” Ding said. “But I really feel like I’m a laid-back person. I’ve got a lot on my plate but I really love nothing more than to just take my time and live in the moment.”
School: Battle Ground High School
What’s next: Pursuing acting at Clark College
The doors at Battle Ground High School are pretty heavy.
“They’re huge. Opening them isn’t just a struggle for handicapped students, but for all students,” Maggie Hickey said.
Hickey, who has cerebral palsy, brought the issue to her principal and administration, advocating that each of the school’s entrances and exits should be ADA-certified. Quickly, she said, they listened, and implemented automatic buttons at each of the school’s entrances.
“That was a huge accomplishment for not just me, but for everyone,” Hickey said. “I definitely want to continue doing that kind of advocacy work.”
In addition to a passion for much-needed improvements to accessible infrastructure, Hickey said the last few years of her high school education have been dominated by taking steps toward a dream she’s had since she was 12: becoming an actress.
A self-proclaimed Disney kid at heart, Hickey started taking drama classes at Battle Ground High School as a sophomore. A comedy-lover, she referenced the goofy charisma of Adam Sandler as a personal favorite and inspiration in her classes.
“It’s definitely brought me out of my shell,” Hickey said. “I’ve always been shy, and I still hate speaking in front of people. But you have to make yourself believe you can do it.”
After over a year of remote learning, a return to the stage was electrifying for Hickey, who had grown exhausted from spending time inside.
Drama class, she said, has been an amazing way to embrace her peers and push past her shyness. In the fall, Hickey plans to study acting at the next level at Clark College.
“It feels surreal. It’s nerve-racking to finally see everything come to an end,” Hickey said, smiling. “It feels like a gift.”
School: Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School
What’s next: Nursing and health science at the University of Washington
Though he’s a bit of a social butterfly, Andy Santos isn’t one to relish in the limelight.
When he found out via text that he was named his school’s senior of the year, Santos didn’t believe it.
“To hear that I wasn’t just recognized by my peers but by the staff really spoke volumes,” Santos said. “It comforted me knowing I had been able to build such good connections with them.”
But even though he beams with pride these days, Santos attributes a long series of embarrassing failures to where he is today.
When he was 15, Santos competed in a wrestling tournament in Las Vegas. In just his second match of the tournament, he found himself staring down a competitor who was nationally ranked.
“I’ve never been beaten so bad in my life,” Santos said, laughing. “It wasn’t even 20 seconds, maybe more like 15.”
A clip of the match went viral online — but rather than wallow in its embarrassment, Santos looks back at 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 quite literally, as a wrestler.
So whether it be wrestling, playing violin or pursuing a field in nursing, Santos said there’s a certain humility that comes with tackling things that have a difficult learning curve.
It’s lessons like these that make him who he is today, and who he wants to keep building on for years to come.
“I used to have horrendous impostor syndrome,” he said. “I always think I’m not worthy of accomplishments. But I’m starting to realize it’s OK to be proud of myself, and it’s okay to take time to improve.”