Pessimists worried about the rising generation can relax.
Tempe student Krista Beerling, 18, has caught a glimpse of America’s future as student body president at Corona del Sol High School. And she likes what she sees.
"There’s definitely more good than bad," she said. "I’ve seen so many good things from the class of 2005."
Beerling will graduate this week with about 15,000 other East Valley students and then attend Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore.
About 1,870 students will graduate Wednesday in the Scottsdale Unified School District, and another 4,240 in the Mesa Unified School District on the same night.
The Gilbert Unified School District also has 2,336 seniors scheduled to graduate this week. The Tempe Union High School District has about 3,000, and the Chandler Unified School District has 1,400.
Beerling said she has seen firsthand that emerging adults in her generation work hard, volunteer their time generously and stay active in the community. Following are the stories of a handful of Beerling’s peers.
ANNETT AGUILAR, MESA
The two grandparents who raised Annett Aguilar taught the 18-year-old Westwood High School senior to aim high. And she did.
Aguilar will use a partial scholarship to attend Arizona State University in the fall, and eventually she plans to become a lawyer. Aguilar spent the first eight years of her life in foster care before living with her grandparents. She said they worked around the clock to raise her, her two sisters and her two cousins. "Both of them stressed, ‘Just get your education,’ " Aguilar said. "Without it, there is a lot of stuff I wouldn’t be able to do."
DEFENDING HIS COUNTRY
JON MARKEY, CHANDLER
Hard work does not scare Chandler High School senior Jon Markey, 17. The Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet will graduate June 1 and head to Great Lakes, Ill., for eight weeks of basic naval training. Markey’s goal after boot camp is to become a Navy SEAL. "It’s probably the hardest training you can go through in the military right now," he said. Nearly 85 percent of Navy SEAL trainees drop out, but Markey said his ROTC experience at Chandler High has left him confident he can beat the odds. "It’s just a sense of pride to be the best of the best," he said.
OFF TO ARGENTINA
WENDY REDFORD, SCOTTSDALE
Wendy Redford plans to attend Arizona State University after her graduation Wednesday at Saguaro High School — but not right away.
First she will study for one year in Argentina through a Scottsdale Rotary Club exchange program. Redford said she looks forward to becoming fluent in Spanish and experiencing a different culture in South America. "I want to see what life is like beyond my own back yard in Arizona," she said.
COPING WITH DYSLEXIA
MEGAN VREELAND, HIGLEY
When Higley High School senior Megan Vreeland writes the letter "b," she remembers that it looks like a mom with a baby — a memory device that helps her write the letters "b," "p" and "d" correctly.
Vreeland, who is dyslexic, uses many coping strategies such as these. So when she received an invitation to apply for the National Honor Society, she thought the club had contacted the wrong person.
"I didn’t know a special-ed kid could ever be qualified for that," she said.
But Vreeland earned the distinction. She removed herself completely from special education classes for the first time in 2004 and will graduate Thursday with all A’s and B’s.
KIDNEY FOR HIS MOTHER
CASEY CONNELL, MESA
Casey Connell will finish high school Wednesday with a near-perfect grade point average — but it will be his mother who receives the most valuable graduation present.
The 18-year-old senior at Westwood High School will donate one of his kidneys this summer to his mother. The gift will save her life, but Connell said it also will be the best present he could give himself.
"Right now, she’s on dialysis three nights a week," he said. "Once the surgery takes place, she will be home more. We will be more of a family. I’m glad I can help because my mom has always been there for me through everything."
Connell, who will major in mechanical engineering at ASU, will be the first person in his family to attend college.
WORKING TO SURVIVE
ASHLEY MacKERCHER, GILBERT
Mesquite High School senior Ashley MacKercher remembers the time her family ate rice for a week to save money. The annual household income at the time was $12,000.
The Gilbert student also knows what it’s like to wake at 4 a.m. to take the city bus to school, and to walk several miles to a fulltime job while attending school.
She also knows what it’s like to graduate with an A average.
Her father is disabled, her twin brother has cerebral palsy and her mother walked out when MacKercher was 6 months old. Now MacKercher, 19, lives a few miles from her father and helps support her siblings financially.
But MacKercher said her father is her best friend, and she thanks him for teaching her to be independent.
"My dad gave me more by letting me go than by keeping me there," she said.
Her schedule is hectic.
She wakes at 4 a.m., attends school from 6:30 to 11:40 a.m., gets home at noon, eats, leaves for work at 12:40 p.m., works from 1:15 to 7:30 p.m., gets home at 8 p.m. and does homework until 10 p.m.
TEEN MOM CARRIES ON
NERINA BARRAZA, TEMPE
Marcos de Niza High School senior Nerina Barraza spent most of September at the hospital after her baby, Noah, arrived six weeks prematurely.
But Barraza’s resolve to finish high school never wavered.
Her family and boyfriend gave encouragement. And the Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting Program in the Tempe Union High School District helped her keep up with her classes. Now Barraza, 18, will graduate on Wednesday and study neonatal nursing at Mesa Community College. "The neonatal nurses were very nice," Barraza said. "And I decided I wanted to do the same thing for others."
CATHERINE SMITH, AHWATUKEE FOOTHILLS
Ahwatukee Foothills student Catherine Smith will receive a high school diploma this week signed by her own mom and dad.
Smith, 18, is a product of Arizona’s rapidly growing homeschool movement and will speak Friday in a graduation ceremony organized by home-school volunteers. Then she will head to ASU with a fulltuition scholarship. "There’s a big homeschool connection in Arizona," Smith said. Her home-school curriculum included violin lessons, and Smith has performed at weddings in a trio with her older sisters. "My sisters are my best friends," she said.
WEST POINT CADET
STEPHEN HELIAS CASARES, SCOTTSDALE
Stephen Helias Casares graduated from Scottsdale’s Notre Dame Preparatory on Friday and will now go Army.
In high school Casares served as senior class president, played baseball and maintained a grade point average above 4.0. Now he has been appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. The challenge of military life should be right up his alley. Both his mother and father are former military officers.
215 DAYS AND COUNTING
BRETT FRALEY, CHANDLER
Valley Christian High School senior Brett Fraley will be remembered for his pants.
On a whim that evolved into a schoolwide joke, Fraley has worn the same pair of jeans for 215 straight days. And for each day, he will donate $1 to charity.
Valley Christian students do charity work as part of their curriculum — but most of the service is more conventional. Projects included helping at food banks, picking fruit and painting houses.
"It teaches you to have a servant’s heart," Fraley said. "And that is really important for Christians."