San Jacinto Valley Students Honored

Photo courtesy of John P. Hess/Creative Industries Media Group

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 limitations for public gatherings, the event was held virtually on Jan. 14. 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.

Backpacks filled with gifts, a plaque, certificates of recognition and much more were donated by the program’s sponsors and will be delivered to each recipient. The students were given the opportunity to thank their families and school staff who have supported them and helped them plan their future life goals.

January’s students of the month from Hemet Unified School District schools were Brooklyn Bush, Tausala Eteuati, Jillyann Hunsucker, Elyse Ramirez and Emily Ward. San Jacinto Unified students were Yulissa Ortiz Antunez and Jeremiah Haywood. In his opening prayer, San Jacinto Assembly of God Pastor Jeff Johnson said everyone comes into a new year with hope and anticipation and he hopes that these students’ lives will exceed their expectations.

Hemet High’s Brooklyn Bush was nominated by many teachers for her “can-do” attitude. She is in the top ten of students academically with a 4.44 GPA. “She impresses everyone around her, students and staff alike,” counselor Maureen Fernandes said. Brooklyn plans to major in art history and minor in life sciences before entering medical school to become an obstetrician, which is her dream job.

She attended Hemet schools her entire life and said being one of only a few black students made her feel she needed to prove herself. “Despite the racial negativity I experienced, I’ve been able to come out at the top of my class,” she said. “My greatest contribution has been my ability to defy stereotypes and encourage younger students to do the same.” The life lesson she plans to take to college is to “never be too busy to watch sunsets.”

She said no matter what, she never forgot the little things in life and hopes she will be able to pay it forward by showing youth they can do whatever they set their minds to. Tausala Eteuati of Tahquitz High School was chosen for her outstanding interpersonal skills, dependable communication and leadership, all while maintaining straight As. She plans to attend UC, San Diego to major in medicine and eventually become an emergency room doctor.

Academy of Innovation’s honored senior, Jillyann Hunsucker, was introduced with one word: resilience. As one of HUSD’s newest K-12 schools, the academy provides different formats for learning opportunities including online, blended and traditional seat-based instruction. Having lived in Hemet her entire life, Jillyann was involved with varsity sports and community outreach through her church. West Valley High School honored Elyse Ramirez and nominating teacher Cheri Kehler said she has watched the young woman grow as a student and an artist in her time at the high school.

Elyse is captain of the dance team, a Thespian officer and has tutored fellow drama students. Elyse said that suffering from anxiety herself and working hard to break the stereotypes of mental illness has inspired her to work in the field of neuroscience and psychology. “I want to help people, not just outside but from within as well,” she said. Emily Ward was Hamilton High’s choice for January. She was singled out for being someone who is always trying hard and caring for others. She was her band’s color guard captain and works hard on her academics.

Yulissa Ortiz Antunez of Mountain View High School is an early graduate who completed her senior year in November. She was born and raised in Honduras but was separated from her family at the age of 14. She said she misses her family who motivated her to fight for her goals. She hopes to get her college degree in immigration law to help others navigate the process she went through. San Jacinto High School teacher Erika Rojas nominated Jeremiah Haywood for this month’s honor.

She has only known him through online classes (due to distance learning that is in place) but says his peers are more successful because of his presence in class. Born in Compton and raised in South Central LA, Jeremiah lost his mother when he was 13 and his father a few years later.

He credits his aunt with helping him stay on track to reach his goal of becoming an electrical engineer. Despite the rough area he grew up in, he wants the next generation to know they can be successful. “Even though your environment is part of what makes you, it’s not what breaks you,” he said. “The main thing I want to convey is that life is hard but the work to get past those hardships is even harder.”

Hemet City Councilmember Linda Krupa made some closing remarks to the students that she said continue to impress her, even after nine years of this program. “If your career path is such that you come home to our community, it would be the most awesome thing in the world,” she said.


Diane A. Rhodes • Contributor

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