Fourteen juniors from Clovis area high schools were honored at the district’s annual Students of Promise dinner on March 18 at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District.
The Students of Promise dinner recognizes students who have overcome adversity. This year, the students honored have had to endure circumstances like homelessness, the death of parents and siblings, critical illness, abuse and addiction.
Each student recognized is eligible to receive a $1,500 scholarship for college or technical school upon graduation from high school.
CUSD Superintendent Janet Young said many of the challenges these students have had to face in their young lives are challenges that would have caused many adults to throw up their hands and give up. Instead, she said these students persevered through heart-wrenching circumstances and are an inspiration to those around them because they remind us all that we too can overcome our challenges and be successful.
“These students have had many obstacles, but they did not allow their obstacles to become roadblocks,” Young said. “When I was a junior in high school, could I have triumphed like them? I don’t know. What I do know is that these kids are winners in life and they are living examples of the power of the human spirit.”
Two or three juniors from each high school were honored. The honorees from Buchanan High School were Margarita Botello and Jonathan Hernandez; from Gateway High, Rosalinda Torres-Criado and Seselie McNight; from Clovis North, Malique Goedig , Bree Terronez and Conner McNight; from Clovis High, Danielle James and Caitlin Tokash; from Clovis West, Kolby Joyce, Cameron Kemp and Rojina Nekoonam; from Clovis East, Joseph Moreno and Carissa Wight.
The following is a summary of what teachers and counselors said about each Student of Promise at the dinner:
Margarita Botello, Buchanan High School
Botello was born in Mexico two and a half months premature. When she was 14 months old, her family moved to California. She had difficulty learning to speak due to hearing loss in her right ear and she struggled in school.
Rhonda Schmidt, who teaches deaf studies at Buchanan, said Botello joined the deaf program on campus and bloomed because she never gave up.
“She’s worked hard to overcome her difficulties with language and she has grown from a shy girl to a confident young woman,” Schmidt said.
Botello plans to one day become a nurse at a children’s hospital. Schmidt says she sees Botello doing just that and being a positive influence in the lives of others.
Rosalinda Torres-Criado, Gateway High School
Torres-Criado was raised by a single mother after her father kicked them out of his life. Eventually, her mother remarried, but her stepfather began to abuse her. Torres-Criado tried to numb the pain and started floundering in school. It wasn’t until she told her mother about the abuse that she was able to get the help she needed and get back on track.
Denise Sandifer, a guidance and learning specialist, said Torres-Criado is now doing well at Gateway High School and has big plans for the future.
“She plans to pursue a career in criminal justice because of what she’s had to endure,” Sandifer said.
Malique Goedig, Clovis North High School
Growing up, Goedig moved back and forth between his parents. He lived in Colorado with his father until coming back to California to live with his mom. Goedig got close to his mom’s live-in boyfriend who was involved in gangs. For the first time, he felt cared for. This scared his mom, who feared Goedig would be put in jail or killed. She called his grandparents and they took him in when he was in 8th grade.
Guidance and Learning Director Sean Ford said Goedig made a lot of poor choices when he was young, but after moving in with his grandparents he began to change and was determined to do better.
“He joined the football team and his coach encouraged him to get his grades up,” Ford said. “He also started sharing his story to help others as a mentor at CenCal Mentoring Academy. He is not a product of his environment. Instead, he has made the choice to give back.”
Jonathan Hernandez, Buchanan High School
Hernandez was being raised by his grandmother until she passed away when he was just 5 years old. Since then, he has been moved around in foster care, having lived in 17 different foster homes. Despite his hardships, he found a reason to live his life and that reason is to serve others in his community.
Transition Specialist Randi Steele said Hernandez has “an unquenchable spirit.”
“Through it all, the one thing that has remained constant is his faith,” Steele said. “His community service is off the charts and he is deeply involved with the youth group at his church. Things that seem like major frustrations in our lives look like little bumps compared to the mountains he’s had to climb. He shows us all what it means to overcome.”
Danielle James, Clovis High School
James grew up in a non-traditional home in Oakland. Her mother was a drug addict, so her grandmother took on the role of guardian. At the age of 6, her grandmother passed away from cancer and James was placed in a group home. She lived in several homes before moving to a home in Clovis.
Guidance and Learning Counselor Jennifer Pritchard said rather than letting her circumstances bring her down, James remained determined to do well in school and lead by example in her group home.
“Last Christmas, she worked on a scrapbook for one of her ‘sisters’ in the group home,” Pritchard said. “She is very close with the other girls in her group home and is a leader to them. She has a lot of love to give.”
James plans on going to college and becoming a pediatrician.
Kolby Joyce, Clovis West High School
Last year, Joyce’s family suffered a great loss when his father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly shortly after losing his job.
Guidance and Learning Specialist Tracey Fowlkes said after spending the summer grieving, Joyce came back to school in the fall and pulled it together, performing well academically.
“He really turned things around and I can see him going to college and doing something great five to 10 years from now,” Fowlkes said.
Cameron Kemp, Clovis West High School
Guidance and Learning Specialist Jose Hernandez says Kemp is a prime example that life is only 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent what you do.
Kemp has lost many loved ones in his short life. When he was young, he lost his cousin. Later, his brother committed suicide and both his parents passed away. Through all this loss, Kemp has also had to cope with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder).
“Life has not been easy, but he is a survivor,” Hernandez said. “He is a great kid. He is thoughtful and sincere and he will do great things.”
Conner McNight, Clovis North High School
At 14 years old, McNight was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to have surgery. The road to recovery after the surgery has been a long one, as he has had to relearn how to talk and move.
Guidance Learning Director Soua Herr said that despite his learning challenges, McNight has maintained his focus and is determined to do well in school.
“He’s faced tremendous adversity, but he is motivated to do well in school and doesn’t make excuses,” Herr said. “He has found ways to cope with his challenges and doesn’t let anything hold him back.”
McNight is involved with the Clovis North mock trial team and plans to practice law.
Seselie McNight, Gateway High School
McNight grew up in the foster care system. A lifetime of neglect and abuse caused her to distrust others and she became a self-destructive teenager. At the age of 14, she became pregnant and had to move to a new group home to get the support she needed. It was after that move that she started to turn her life around.
Maggie Ikeda Pendleton, a school nurse for alternative education and therapeutic intervention program, said McNight is a shining example of how someone can “rewrite the story of their life.”
“She has shown great resilience,” Pendleton said. “She took acceptance for her actions and responsibility for herself and her daughter.”
McNight was inspired to pursue a career as a labor and delivery nurse after the care she received from nurses when she went into labor as a scared pregnant teen. She plans to help others the way those nurses helped her.
Joseph Moreno, Clovis East High School
Guidance Counselor Jonathan Johnson says Moreno is a humble young man. When he was 9 years old, his dad passed away and his mom was left to take care of five children. The middle child, Moreno made a series of bad choices to try and help his family. He struggled and moved between relatives. Now, he lives with friends.
Johnson said Moreno started to turn things around recently.
“He built relationships with coaches who motivated him to make a greater effort in school,” Johnson said. “His grades have improved tremendously.”
Moreno plans to go to college and become a broadcast journalist, reporting on sports.
Rojina Nekoonam, Clovis West High School
Nekoonam’s story is not one many her age in this country can relate too. She and her family were victims of religious persecution in Iran. When she was young, she and her father fled Iran, escaping to Turkey where they were held for two years in a camp. They were sponsored to come to America and once in Clovis, she began attending formal schooling for the first time. Despite her lack of education, Nekoonam’s strong dedication to learning and her intellectual capacity have helped her beat the odds and succeed.
Nekoonam’s teacher Ellen Melocik said she knows Nekoonam will make a difference in the world.
“She is bright and excited to learn,” Melocik said. “She wants to help people like herself by becoming a doctor and working with Doctors without Borders. She realizes how lucky she was to escape and wants to go back and help others do the same.”
Bree Torronez, Clovis North High School
At a young age, Torronez was witness to domestic violence. When she was 11, her mom left the family and she and her sister had to deal with her father who suffered from a mental illness. Wanting to take care of her father and her younger sister, Torronez quit going to school. A neighbor noticed Torronez stopped going to school and reported it, so she and her sister were taken away and placed into the care of a relative, and then in foster care.
Guidance Learning Director Soua Herr said at one point Torronez didn’t even see herself graduating from high school, but now, she has big dreams of going to college.
“I see her going to college and earning the degree in psychology that she wants,” Herr said.
Caitlin Tokash, Clovis High School
Tokash has been through a lot in her young life. Growing up, her father was in and out of jail and struggled with alcoholism. At one point, Tokash was homeless. In addition to her difficulties at home, Tokash also suffers from asthma, has severe migraines and a learning disability that requires her to read material multiple times to comprehend it.
Stephanie Frazier, a guidance and learning specialist, said Tokash could have easily gone down the wrong path and almost did by befriending the wrong people.
“When she started going down that path, she took the time for self-reflection, found faith in God and decided to get back on the right path,” Frazier said.
Carissa Wight, Clovis East High School
When Wight was 4 years old, her mother left and she was raised by a single father. He lost his job when she was in the fourth grade and they were forced to leave their rental home. Homeless, they began living in a tent near the mountains. When she started going to Reyburn Intermediate, another family took notice and took her in. Since then, Wight has excelled in school and plans to become the first person in her family to go to college.
Guidance Counselor Michael Avants said he has no doubt that Wight will go to college and do great thing in her future.
“She has a great heart and has even served the homeless meals at Poverello House,” Avants said. “It’s amazing because she was homeless and hungry and now she’s helping others who are.”