Pioneer Valley grad found time for achievements and fun during high school
For many, high school can be a nerve-wracking experience. Students face academic pressures, social awkwardness, and the intimidating process of finding your place in the world. But Naomi Lopez has learned that the most important thing you can do when you’re young is step out of your comfort zone.
“I remember I was in the class with pretty much all seniors and I was a junior. The teacher had recommended that I shouldn’t take it since I hadn’t had chemistry before,” said Ms. Lopez, recounting her time in an environmental science class.
It was one of the many experiences she’s had that taught her how to challenge herself. Ms. Lopez decided to take the class anyway, although she felt that she might not deserve to be there if she wasn’t going to be able to handle it or keep up with everyone, Ms. Lopez told the News-Press. Over time and with the help of her teacher, Ms. Lopez finally grasped that she was good enough and could rise to the challenge. She said it was a huge boost in confidence.
Naomi Lopez will be graduating with her fellow seniors from Pioneer Valley High School in Santa Maria today. She is a Santa Maria native, raised by her parents alongside her older sister, who also graduated from Pioneer Valley. Ms. Lopez said she was also lucky to live near both sets of her grandparents.
Ms. Lopez said that she will look back on her time at Pioneer Valley with gratitude for the opportunities to grow she found there.
“Not just academically and what I do, I think more so in confidence in myself and being able to see things from a big perspective and have an understanding of others. I feel like my mind has just opened a lot more so I’m grateful for that,” she said.
Ms. Lopez says that taking on extracurricular activities like soccer and singing in rallies in front of the entire school helped her overcome her nerves and avoid regret.
“I think it really taught me a lot about teamwork and dedication and having a positive attitude towards things, even if it’s going your way or if its not,” said Ms. Lopez.
Ms. Lopez also learned the value of communication through her time as publicist for the Hiking club and growing up in Santa Maria, where she became aware of the problem with language barriers that many experienced in the Hispanic majority city. Seeing the struggle with her own eyes interested me in the power of language and led her to pursue a career as an English teacher, said Ms. Lopez.
Ms. Lopez will be attending UCLA in the fall, where she will study English. She wants to learn more about the power of language to help communities and hopes to one day return to Santa Maria to teach.
“I think language and words really have a power to illicit emotions in people even when you can’t relate on every single level. I think that it allows you to connect with people in ways that other times you can’t,” she said.
Ms. Lopez hasn’t been slacking while at Pioneer Valley. Along with the clubs and sports, Ms. Lopez received multiple scholarships and awards for her academics and community service, including the Santa Maria Breakfast Rotary and Minerva Club scholarships. She will be graduating valedictorian with a 4.4 GPA. But Ms. Lopez said she values finding time for friends and family along with academics.
“A lot of people it’s either one or the other. If you’re pursuing academics, like a really high level of GPA or anything like that, some people can get so absorbed in that that they forget about other things, like friends and just enjoying high school for what it is. And then there’s other people who place less emphasis on their education and are more about having fun and doing whatever they want to do, but for me I feel like I wanted both,” Ms. Lopez explained.
Ms. Lopez is glad she found the balance and looks forward to continuing it at UCLA. She said that she is excited for graduation, but finds the end of high school bitter sweet.
“I’m nervous because we’re leaving and I feel like a lot of us aren’t going to see each other again and we’re all going our own separate ways. That can be scary, but I’m also real excited for it because that means new doors are opening and so many new things are coming our way that we don’t even know what’s going to happen yet,” said Ms. Lopez
Ms. Lopez wants to encourage future seniors to take advantage of their time in high school and not miss opportunities to experience all that it has to offer.
“I would say to make the most of your time left because I feel like everyone tells you that, ‘Oh, it’s going to go by so fast’, ‘Oh, it’s going to be over before you know it’, and I never really believed that until it was happening,” she explained, “I would tell future seniors to make the most of their time and go out and do things and have fun and just appreciate the time that you have there at school. Even if it’s not always the best you can make the most of it, as well as still keeping your focus on your academics.