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 Feb. 11. About 60 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.
February’s students of the month from Hemet Unified School District schools were Paola Barrera Elizalde, Lily Clarke, Marcos Quintero, Jasmine Ramirez and Ariel Sum. San Jacinto Unified students were Matthew Benavidez and Kimberly Monteagudo.
In his opening prayer, San Jacinto Assembly of God Pastor Jeff Johnson said in addition to highlighting the students’ inspirational stories, this program also celebrates relationships such as the ones students have with school staff and mentors, their families and the community. He said it is always important to think beyond ourselves, and that’s what this program demonstrates each month.
West Valley’s Paola Barrera Elizalde serves as the Commanding Officer for 147 cadets of the school’s NJROTC (Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training) and plans to enlist in the United States Navy after graduation. Chief Ed Aguiar is in charge of the program and said cadets enter the program and move through ranks based on effort, which Paola has exhibited since her freshman year.
Lily Clarke of Hamilton High School said she struggled with depression and finding help from a doctor when she was 15 and a therapy program at Loma Linda has motivated her to want to help others.
“I can hold onto hope now,” she said. “I’ve learned to cherish the little moments.”
Hemet High School senior Marcos Quintero was chosen by his counselor, Dawn Sonnier, for his involvement with 11 different clubs and other school activities alongside his rigorous course schedule. Marcos plans to become a registered nurse after being inspired by the compassion and knowledge of an in-home nurse his grandfather had during an illness.
“I’ve attended Hemet Unified schools all 12 years and a nursing career is something I always dreamed of,” he said. “I learned some useful skills through involvement with clubs and groups. I’ll be the first in my family to graduate from high school and hope to be the first to graduate from college. I’m proud of who I am and who I have become, possibly returning to the Hemet community to serve.”
Alessandro High School honored Jasmine Ramirez for having a positive effect on all her virtual classmates. Principal Tara O’Malley said that everyone has learned a lot during the past two school years that have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Adversity reveals character and some great things are coming about,” she said.
Jasmine, whose parents work at Hemet Global Medical Center, said she likes giving encouragement to others and plans to become a professional photographer after taking classes at Riverside City College.
“I want to help people look at the world we live in in a different way,” she said.
Ariel Sum was Tahquitz High’s choice for February. She aspires to be a college professor and a book author. She spends her spare time tutoring other students.
“When I was younger, I was bullied for being Asian,” Ariel said. “I decided that if I couldn’t fit into their mold, I’d have to create my own. I learned that you can’t have ups without downs to compare them to.”
Mountain Heights Academy honored Matthew Benavidez, who completed his graduation requirements on Jan. 21. His teacher Sharon Wilson said he has a passion for technology that went outside the classroom. He plans to attend Arizona’s University of Advancing Technology to focus on AI (Artificial Intelligence).
“I want to make amazing things to make life easier for people,” Matthew said. “I found a new family and friends within technology. I got involved with my church making videos for YouTube and it’s been extremely rewarding to me.”
Kimberly Monteagudo was San Jacinto High School’s choice for student of the month. She is currently ranked 12 in a class of 600 seniors and even though she hasn’t chosen a definite career path, she is pretty sure it will involve mathematics or engineering. She said she is thankful she was able to overcome her anxiety about public speaking.
“Mistakes and failures are just opportunities to grow,” Kimberly said.
Riverside County Superintendent of Schools Edwin Gomez concluded the event by saying he was elated to hear about the successes of the students and listen to their powerful stories.
“Keep dreaming big,” he told them. “We believe in you and we’re excited for your future.”
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