26 May 19
Eleven Humboldt and Del Norte County high school seniors were recently honored by the High Climber’s program, coordinated by North Coast Forest Industry.
The 52nd annual High Climbers luncheon was held May 15th in Eureka, honoring students who excel academically or athletically, are active participants in their communities, and have overcome challenges and adversity to stay on track with their education.
Students were recognized from Arcata, Del Norte, East, Eureka, Ferndale, Fortuna, Hoopa Valley, McKinleyville and South Fork High Schools, along with Northern United Humboldt Charter School and St. Bernard’s Academy. School representatives make the selection for each student honored.
Each student received a laser engraved redwood plaque and a $50 cash scholarship from Humboldt Redwood Company. Other sponsors of the luncheon were Schmidbauer Lumber, Green Diamond Resource Company, CTJ Properties/C&K Johnson Industries, Renner Petroleum, O&M Industries and Leon’s Car Care.
Arcata High School — Jackson Payne
Payne started attending Arcata High School half way through his junior year, moving to Humboldt County from Santa Cruz, California. He ended up moving several times that year and struggled with ADHD which made school particularly difficult.
Arcata High School teacher Jack States said of Payne, “Since the beginning of the year he has shown a level of maturity, kindness, empathy, and positivity that you rarely see in an 18-year-old. I can honestly say that his presence in my third period class has given me faith in humanity.”
Payne lives on his own and has a job at Mazzoti’s in Arcata. He plans to pursue a career in cinematography.
“His future is bright and I am so excited to see him succeed in whatever he puts his mind to,” States said.
Del Norte High School — Nolan O’Kelly
After being ejected from five schools, O’Kelly moved to Del Norte County to attend high school during his freshman year. And although he began his high school education as a tough kid with an attitude, school officials say he has shown maturity, personal growth, and incredible determination to get where he is today.
Basketball has been a big part of O’Kelly’s journey, providing an outlet for him to focus on all the positives in his life.
“Nolan was hard-working, reliable, punctual, and responsible — all of the attributes we expect of our guys,” said varsity basketball coach Blaine Lopez.
O’Kelly said he is thankful for the Del Norte community which helped him believe in himself.
“Despite living in poverty for most of my life, it has made me a stronger person. It built me the way I am today, appreciative of everything I have and everyone who has stepped in my path. Throughout my hardships I have learned key morals in life, like everything takes time, situations change, and you will survive,” he said.
After high school Kelly plans on attending College of the Redwoods where he hopes to continue playing basketball as he works on his education. As far as a career goes, Kelly’s love of animals has led him to a future goal of becoming a veterinarian and maybe opening an animal shelter.
East High School — Dylan Walker
Dylan Walker has worked hard to overcome many obstacles in his life, according to East High School officials.
“All of the staff at East High is extremely proud of Dylan,” teacher Scott Betts said.
Walker is described as intelligent, well liked by his peers, and friendly.
”Dylan shows up every day no matter the obstacles in his way,” Betts said.
In his free time Walker likes to listen to music, read and play video games with his friends.
After graduating from high school Walker plans to pursue a career with Humboldt Creamery.
“We expect Dylan to keep climbing and achieve great things,” said Betts.
Eureka High School — Ahmad Rashed
Rashed and his family moved to Humboldt County in 2016, leaving behind their home in war-torn Afghanistan. Rashed’s parents felt America would have more opportunities for their three children.
Moving to America was not an easy decision, and the Rashed family had to overcome many cultural and language barriers.
“Ahrmad started school in the U.S. in the 10th grade. His journey has never been easy, but he is highly motivated. His motto is ‘never give up,'” said Eureka High School counselor Enrique Gomez.
Rashed plans to attend De Anza Community College to complete his general education studies, and then transfer to University of California Berkeley to major in computer science.
“Ahrmad is excited about his future and the possibilities,” Gomez said. “I’m proud to be Ahrmad’s counselor and I believe that he will be a successful and productive member of our society.”
Ferndale High School — Vanessa Frost
Vanessa Frost and her brother were raised by her single father on a low income, but with a positive outlook and happy nature, she turned the negative into a positive.
“We at Ferndale High School are very proud of her and can’t wait to see all the good she does in the world,” said Ferndale Unified School District counselor Erin Banke.
Frost is serving as editor and main photographer for the yearbook, chairs the pets committee with the Leo Club (obtaining donations for Miranda’s Rescue), and is the senior class representative for the associated student body.
Frost has an overall GPA of 3.86 and has taken every AP class offered at Ferndale High School.
“Vanessa is an individual who overcomes adversity because she sees the necessity of putting others before herself so that everybody around her has a chance to succeed,” Ferndale High School AP English teacher Mr. Chiles said.
Frost has been accepted to every college to which she applied and is choosing to attend Humboldt State University and pursue a career in psychology.
Fortuna High School — Venice D’Amico
Venice D’Amico is the epitome of the definition of perseverance, according to school representatives. She has battled cancer and related diseases for three of her four high school years.
In the middle of her freshman year she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, yet despite missing school for doctors appointments, treatments, and numerous overnight trips to seek medical attention, she finished the year with a 3.87 GPA.
“This was the first sign that Venice was determined as a student and a fighter who may get knocked down in her battle with cancer, but she would get back on her feet and charge forward,” said Fortuna High School academic counselor Norm Sotomayer.
D’Amico continued battling cancer during her sophomore year, finishing that year on track for graduation, with a clean scan and on the road to recovery. D’Amico started her junior year with a positive outlook, while taking a rigorous course load of two AP and two honors classes. She then was diagnosed with acquired polyneuropathy, a direct result of her battle with lymphoma, which affected her ability to walk and use her muscles, and in particular her hands. Despite all this, she finished her junior year with a 4.51 GPA.
During her high school career, she has completed the FFA program, holding the office of Education Outreach Chair and was secretary of the Key Club. She has also spoken publicly about her journey with the American Cancer Society, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Cancer Crushers.
For her senior year, D’Amico is healthier than she has been throughout her high school career. She has decided to pursue a career in pediatric oncology.
“If cancer and a debilitating nerve disease did not slow Venice down in being an amazing student,” Sotomayer said, “there is nothing that can stop her from being a pediatric oncologist. Her future patients will be fortunate to have Venice on their team, as she knows the fight and will do everything in her power to care for the kiddos.”
Hoopa Valley High School — William Reynolds
Having had his fair share of adversity in his life, William Reynolds is not a victim, but has used his experiences to become strong and humble. So say Hoopa Valley High School officials, who explain that Reynolds and his three siblings and cousin were raised by his grandmother.
Although Reynolds’ parents struggled with their own issues, they tried to be there for him as much as possible. When Reynolds’ grandmother passed away, it was up to him to keep the family together, and along with this responsibility, he has also excelled both academically and athletically.
During his four years in high school Reynolds has been a key member of the football team where he earned two all-county stars, and he competed at the NCS in track and field. On top of sports and academics, he also has a part-time job. Reynolds has taken a rigorous college prep course load throughout high school and will be graduating with a cumulative 4.0 GPA.
“Students like William make my job rewarding, and I admire his quality of personal character and desire to succeed in life,” Hoopa Valley High School guidance counselor Sydney McConnell said.
McKinleyville High School — Kelson Sutter
Kelson Sutter arrived at McKinleyville High School five weeks into his sophomore year, coming from Australia. He had no transcripts so school officials placed him where they felt he belonged. After several months, it was learned that Sutter had never been enrolled in high school when he was in Australia, and that he was about 60 school credits behind.
“He took advantage of every opportunity to earn credit,” McKinleyville High School academic counselor Anne Sahlberg said, “taking seven periods a day for four semesters and 150 percent of normal credits for summer school both summers so that he could apply to college. No other student in our school’s history has done this.”
Sutter has moved four times in three years but recently started living in an apartment with roommates and got a part-time job at Angels of Hope in Arcata.
Sutter is interested in engineering and space.
“This is where Kelson comes alive, talking about technology, calculus and engineering,” Sahlberg said. “What motivates Kelson is wondering about his potential that bubbles under the surface of his chaotic life. If I were to gamble on the undeveloped skills of this student, I would ante up everything I have.”
Northern United Humboldt Charter School — Valentia Garibay
Since she was 17, Garibay has been living with kidney disease and that has been a challenge. She was raised by her grandmother and lives in Fortuna.
“Valentina Garibay has faced many challenges in her short lifetime that have led to her determination in life and an understanding of prioritizing what is important or taking life in stride, so to speak,” said Northern United Humboldt Charter School counselor Miranda Johnston.
After being diagnosed with kidney disease Garibay was put on hemodialysis and had to live in San Francisco for several months to receive treatment. After two years of dialysis she received a kidney transplant, and she still travels to San Francisco once a month to see her doctor.
“What distinguishes Valentina is her resiliency, incredibly high level of motivation, her infectious smile, and that she is a joy to be around,” Johnston said
Garibay never fell behind in her classes at school and will graduate with a 3.3 GPA. She plans to attend College of the Redwoods in fall 2019 to study nursing.
St. Bernard’s Academy — Heather Risling
Heather Risling had a difficult childhood. She was raised by her grandmother, who passed away when Rising was eight years old.
“Her loss was devastating,” Risling said.
Toward the end of her junior year in high school, Risling moved into her friend’s mother’s house, all the time knowing she was capable of bettering her future.
“I always kept a positive attitude and outlook on my future,” Risling said. “I have never been one to give up on things because they got slightly harder than normal.”
She said she is dedicated to her education and has been accepted at seven California State universities and one out-of-state university.
“Going to a university was one of my biggest goals to start my life,” Garibay said, “and this has been my biggest success yet to come.”
She will be attending Sonoma State University starting in August 2019 and plans to major in biology. After getting her bachelor’s degree she wants to become a dentist.
South Fork High School — Emmerson Peralta Cruz
When Emmerson Peralta Cruz arrived in Humboldt County from Mexico in his eighth-grade year, he had no school records and could not speak English. South Fork High School officials called attention to how far Cruz had come since the beginning to graduate with his peers.
During his high school career Cruz became a trusted office aide at the high school, a member of the football team, and maintained a positive attitude throughout changes in his home life. School officials said Cruz has met every day of his high school career with a good attitude and good character, learning more each day.
His journey has been unique, school officials said, but he is one of many for whom high school graduation is not a given, but a triumph over difficult circumstances.