San Jacinto Valley Students Honored


The Hemet/San Jacinto Student of the Month program recently recognized seven local high school seniors for demonstrating character, integrity, love of learning, involvement in school activities, athletics and community service. Students were nominated by teachers or other school personnel for making a difference in their home, school and community.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s limitations regarding public gatherings, the event was held virtually on Oct. 8. More than 55 participants logged into the Zoom meeting where students shared their stories and sponsors and administrators offered their support. Program founder and meeting hostess Karena Zermeno also represented one of the sponsors, Altura Credit Union.

Program sponsors donated backpacks filled with gifts, a plaque, certificates of recognition and much more. The students were given the opportunity to thank their families and teachers who have supported them and helped them plan their future life goals.

October’s students of the month from Hemet Unified School District schools were Jacqueline Renteria Aguilar, Cameron Canada, Noah Davis, Darian Lenning and Haley Richardson. San Jacinto Unified students were Grace McNeely and Vianka Ponce.

Coincidentally, all the recipients this month shared a common trait of demonstrating kindness to others. They were acknowledged and applauded for their selfless actions that have had a great impact on those around them.

West Valley High School’s Jacqueline Renteria Aguilar was singled out for her contributions in setting a great example for others, especially at home for her younger sister during these distance learning days. She plans to study nursing at the University of California, Davis.

Cameron Canada was introduced by Tahquitz High School’s new principal Kari McGowan and was recognized for his strong balance of academics and athletics. He feels his greatest contribution to his school and community has been his impact on youth, giving them a voice.

“Life at this age is a lot harder than it has to be,” he said. “I want to provide positivity to youth.”

Cameron’s goal is to become an educator to “shape and reform the way students learn.” Despite the recent loss of some family members, he remains optimistic and hopeful that one day he can realize his dream of building a school where all kids will be okay with being themselves.

Noah Davis from Hamilton High was commended for leading after-school online homework sessions for his classmates. His studies to become a chef will begin at College of the Desert’s culinary program.

Alessandro High School’s Darian Lenning was selected for being goal-oriented, respectful, dedicated and being too humble to recognize the positive influence and inspiration he has on students around him.

As ASB president, Hemet High’s Haley Richardson was recognized for being a student leader who knows the true meaning of inclusion.

When Mountain Heights Academy Principal Ken Swanson introduced Grace McNeely, he was quick to point out that she lives up to her name and has shown grace under pressure many times on campus. She is looking forward to a nursing career as well as enlistment in the United States Navy.

Vianka Ponce is a leader in the classroom and on the softball field at San Jacinto High School. She plans to major in biology at College with the hopes of becoming a dermatologist one day. She said coping with COVID-19 has been difficult but personal family issues have made things even harder. Vianka said she wants to be a good role model for others, especially her younger siblings, since her family has faced much heartache as a result of her older sister’s drug addiction.

SJUSD Superintendent Dave Pyle said that wanting to help youth and change the world seemed to be the trend among all the students present this month.

Zermeno spoke directly to the students to conclude the event, praising them for being there for others even when dealing with their own adversities.

“We never know how we affect someone with our words or actions,” she said. “What you’ve gone through as a child or young adult does not define your future. It has formed who you are and I think whatever those challenges have been, it’s formed great young adults and you are so inspirational. I am so motivated today to be kind and to be like you.”

Zermeno said a handwritten message she recently read at a local Starbucks said it best: “Today you could be standing next to someone who is trying their best not to fall apart. Whatever you do today, do it with kindness in your heart.”


-Diane A. Rhodes

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