SUNNYSIDE Several Sunnyside High School graduates have bright futures ahead of them.
School District spokeswoman Jessica Morgan has highlighted the stories of some of the high school’s exceptional grads.
Andrew Gallagher’s dream of playing college football was almost sidelined by a back injury he suffered during his sophomore year.
His confidence was diminished as his mind wandered to the worst possible outcome each time he stepped on the field.
“There were two people who pulled me back on track and built my confidence up as I worked to strengthen my body in the weight room,” Gallagher said. “My Mom, who wouldn’t let me doubt myself and prayed with and for me throughout that struggle, and Coach (John) Lobbestael who’s open-door leadership style led to good advice in helping me switch from linebacker to safety, a position I was more comfortable with.”
What he learned from that, his biggest challenge, was don’t be afraid to try new things even if you are doubting yourself.
You may, he said, be surprised at what you can do.
That mentality also helped him step out of his comfort zone as he transitioned from homeschool to a public high school with nearly 2,000 students.
Participating in leadership activities, track, football, and stunt team made the switch less awkward.
“I was part of the cheer team,” he said. “I definitely didn’t expect that to happen.”
Gallagher will be attending Whitworth University in Spokane in the fall. He plans to play football and study secondary education, focusing on biology or chemistry.
His inspiration for this career path has been the interaction with high school teachers who have a huge impact on him.
“I want to come back to Sunnyside and make that kind of difference too,” he said.
Carlos Gomez doesn’t have much downtime since graduating June 8.
He will start his comsemtologist training at Paul Mitchell School in Richland on June 21.
His long-term goal is to own and operate his own salon here by the time he is 30 years old.
With his father running the business side of things, he wants to expand into the Tri-Cities, Seattle and Los Angeles.
“To run a successful business and work with clients you have to have leadership skills, be friendly, and trustworthy,” said Sanchez. “I’ve always been a pretty shy person, so pushing myself to be outgoing through experiences I had at high school really helped me get over the shyness.”
Gomez has participated in band since he was in sixth-grade. As a junior, he had the opportunity to lead it as a drum major.
He has served as president of the Latino Culture Club and was part of Mr. SHS, which he said gave him the opportunity to meet and talk with people he would never have considered talking to outside of the program.
“Being part of Mr. SHS let me open up to new people and serving as drum major gave me confidence in leading and managing people,” he said. “It is going to be hard to leave here, as I will miss the friends I’ve made.”
Samantha Gonzalez’s dream school has always been to attend University of Washington.
But the giant campus and enormous student body was a daunting thought for her.
The opportunity to visit the school during an I-Dub conference demonstrated the university’s commitment to helping students find their community through small classes, connected and involved professors, and activities to keep her engaged gave her peace of mind in her decision to attend.
“That is what Sunnyside High School is like. Our staff cares about us, they want us engaged in activities and work to find what works for us as students. It’s a family here,” she said. “I know it will be like taking a piece of home with me when I leave.”
Gonzalez hasn’t decided on a course of study yet, but knows it’s between pre-med and business and that her career will center around working with children in the medical field.
Associated Student Body President Daniel Huizar said there are a few factors that influenced his post-high school plan to attend Eastern Washington University and become a physical therapist specializing in child rehabilitation.
First, he is inspired by his cousin who has Downs Syndrome.
Second, his participation in the Life Skills Leadership class sparked his passion for creating inclusive events and activities for students of all ability levels and solidified his decision to continue down that path with his career.
Lastly, he is inspired by the work of teacher Tina Peabody, who Huizar said has so much on her shoulders but still cares about everyone. From her, he said, he’s learned responsibility, time management, the importance of community and leadership.
Although he is excited about what comes next, it is hard for him to believe his time in high school is over.
He considers the four years he spent here to be the best of his life, so far.
“I was shy and closed off as a freshman,” he said with a laugh. “But the staff here didn’t let that fly. They want you involved as much as possible.
“Through the life skills leadership class which I convinced Ms. Peabody to let me join my sophomore year (it’s a class for juniors and seniors) and Mr. Martinez encouraging me to run for ASB president, I got out of my comfort zone and grew as a student.”
His advice to incoming freshman is to take every opportunity given — it keeps you connected and builds better relationships.
George Heisey knows what career path he will be on when he enters California Polytechnic State University next fall as a freshman.
But as for his career, that is where things get interesting.
“What I like about computer science is that it is always changing,” he said. “What is new and cutting edge today, could be completely old tomorrow. Nothing stays the same and that is what makes it so exciting.”
His time as a four-year member of the Technology Student Association — which focuses on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — helped prepare him for his new journey and opened his mind to the many possibilities of a degree in computer science.
“I also realized early on in my high school career that all the staff in this school are here to help you if you want to be helped,” Heisey said. “From test prep to college and scholarship application help, students who take the initiative and reach out will definitely get the help they need for after graduation.”
While Heisey is especially excited to experience an urban-living experience in San Louis Obispo, Calif. — a far different environment than Sunnyside — he said he will miss the friends he’s made here because there is no telling when they will all be together again.
David Jiminez has never been one to have his head in the clouds because his sights are much higher than that. Space, to be exact.
He has dreamed of becoming an astronaut since he was in middle school and recognized the sacrifices his parents made to ensure he could shoot for the stars.
“I set my sights so high because my parents did so much to give me a chance,” Jiminez said. “It is for them and for my dream that I work so hard.”
He transferred to Sunnyside High School during his junior year and immediately embraced the activities and opportunities around him.
Track and cross country, FFA and Key Club included.
Jiminez has already been accepted to Stanford University to study aeronautical engineering and he is waiting to hear about his acceptance to the Naval Academy for the same program.
Additionally, he is a recipient of the Gates Scholarship.
If there is one thing Estefani Ramos would change about her time at Sunnyside High School, it would be to get more involved.
However, looking over her long list of activities — including softball, Technology Student Association and Key Club — it would be hard to see where she could have found the time.
However, she said that involvement was the key to her success.
“When I came to the high school as a freshman, I was lost,” Ramos remembers. “Adjusting was hard and I didn’t feel like I fit in. Then softball season came around.”
Joining the softball team and finding her friend group there changed everything for her.
On that team, she said, she found people with the same interests, who supported each other and became her school family.
Leaving that behind when she heads to Eastern Washington University next fall will be difficult, but with a focus on earning a degree in nursing and a plan to return to the Yakima Valley, she is confident in her ability to find that support group again.
When you have the weight of being a role model to your younger siblings on your shoulders, making a decision to move far away to college is difficult.
Juliana Sanchez takes her responsibility seriously and that is why she plans to stay close by to attend Columbia Basin College in Pasco for two years to earn her associate of arts degree, then transfer to Eastern Washington University in Cheney.
“It’s about being strong for them, so they know life is more than our struggles,” she said. “I am taking smaller steps so I am prepared for a larger campus, and to also show them what we can achieve if we focus and ignore the distractions.”
She has interests in becoming either a traveling nurse or a lawyer, a career she has explored while at Sunnyside High School, taking Law and Justice with John Hulick.
Her time in leadership class also helped her step out of her shell and taught her how to productively manager her time which is a good skill since she plans to work while attending college.
“I am a supervisor at the KFC here in town, and they are going to transfer me down to a Tri-City location when I move,” she said. “It’s going to be fun!”
Trey Sanchez plans to stick close to home for his first two years of college, opting to attend Yakima Valley College to play basketball while earning his two-year degree.
He then plans to earn his master’s degree in kinesiology with a goal of becoming an athletic trainer or basketball coach.
“I credit Mrs. Alseth for my continued interested in sports medicine,” he said. “She is fun to be around, so excited about what she is teaching us, and always encourages us.
“If we do good, she knows we can do even better. I consider her to be the best teacher ever.”
While he is excited for what comes next, he admits he will miss the atmosphere of Sunnyside High School.
“The school spirit here is unreal,” he said. “To the freshman coming in, soak it up and cherish every moment because it is over in a flash.”