At first, the photo shoot for this year’s Senior Spotlight, at Central Arizona College’s Maricopa campus, felt a bit like that first high school dance, where the kids were standing along the wall.

While the 16 students chosen for InMaricopa’s Senior Spotlight all have excellence in common, they come from four schools and have diverse backgrounds.

It wasn’t long, however, until photographer Victor Moreno started to break the tension, asking some students to jump. Then he got them to take steps to the left and right, while he got just the right angle for his pictures.

As the prospective graduates patiently followed Moreno’s direction, you could hear giggles and fits of laughter erupt as the nervous energy dissipated.

In many ways, the process these students went through during this photo shoot will mimic life itself as they and their 2023 classmates leave the protective nest of high school and enter the real world this month.

There’s trepidation about the next step. Soon, they will all realize the dance is ongoing and it’s best to simply get out there on the floor and bust a move.

What will that look like for these 16 seniors?

The process
Before we look at this year’s collection of Maricopa’s top graduates, let’s take a moment to explain the selection process.

This spring, InMaricopa reached out to area high school officials for nominations.

Students were selected on excellence in academics, athletics, the arts and public service.

Maricopa High, with the largest graduating class in the city, numbering more than 500 this year, had 10 selections. A+ Charter, Heritage and Sequoia Pathway each had two selections.

Each student completed a survey about their life as a student and a look at what they hope to accomplish in the world.

Lealani Escalade graduated last year as a junior — and by herself, comprising A+ Charter’s first graduating class. This year’s class of 22 represents the first full graduating class at the school.

Representing A+ Charter in the Senior Spotlight this year are Ariana Fierro and Elijah Raines.

Ariana plans to enter the legal profession and become a lawyer. To do that, she’ll complete the coursework she’s already started at Central Arizona College and transfer to Arizona State University as a pre-law student.

Elijah, a graduating junior, was accepted to Dartmouth, Claremont McKenna College and Carleton College. He will select one and then pursue coursework to enter the medical field with an eye on bringing innovation to underserved communities.

Ariana Fierro
“My favorite activities include digital art, painting, writing short stories and volunteering. I have proudly served on the Student Council and on the City of Maricopa Youth Council. I was nominated and inducted into the National Honor Society of Leadership and Success through the Central Arizona College chapter. I also enjoy volunteering my time at the Maricopa Veteran’s Day Parade through the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 133.

“My greatest achievement was this past summer; I was one of 60 incoming high school juniors and seniors in Arizona to be selected as a participant at Arizona State University César Chávez Leadership Institute. I was selected based on an essay on water conservation and drought in our state, academics and community service. I attended the one-week residential program, housed at Barrett’s Honors College at ASU. This one-of-a-kind experience embraced community service, development of leadership skills and encouraged civic engagement. Our group was motivated and inspired through César Chávez’s life, legacy and spirit of helping others and community involvement.”

Elijah Raines
“I am in my third year of high school; however, I have gained enough credits to earn my diploma. I am originally from Chicago, Illinois, and have lived in Maricopa for four years. When I first began attending A+ Charter Schools, I started looking for service opportunities through my high school. National Honor Society was a great option because it fit into my school schedule and didn’t disrupt my busy afternoons. I also wanted to use NHS to help promote school culture and highlight the importance of citizenship and service.

“My teachers’ sincere engagement in my academics is one of the aspects of A+ Charter Schools that have helped me accomplish my proudest achievement — acceptance into my top universities, including Dartmouth College, Claremont Mckenna College and Carleton College. My school facilitates communication and the open exchange of ideas, and I will continue to use the skills I have learned throughout my academic and professional career. After high school, I intend to go to college to study pre-med and Africana Studies. I am interested in the social barriers and health disparities that disadvantage minority communities.”

There are 43 graduates this year at Heritage Academy. The ceremony is on campus at 7:30 p.m. on May 25. This year’s Senior Spotlight selections are Lucas Adams and Cienna West.
Lucas will attend the University of Arizona and has plans to work in astrophysics. Cienna, who plans to enroll at Northern Arizona University, is exploring what she wants to do, but explains she wants to use her talents to give back to the community and help families and children.

Lucas Adams
“I have long held the dream of discovering new worlds that lie just beyond our imagination. My goals are to eventually get my Ph.D. in astrophysics. Before I do, I first want to get my bachelor’s degree in astronomy and math, and a master’s in both specialties. I believe this study will help prolong life on Earth. I have been fortunate enough to explore other areas of interest besides academics at Heritage Academy, such as languages, community service and sports. I still remember the day I won my first swim medal. Swimming was a class that I was put into by accident and has now become a permanent part of my life, giving me an outlet that provides sanctuary from my busy brain.

“In the past four years, I was presented with opportunities, such as a four-year plan, dual enrollment classes, the ability to do college classes concurrently, and over summer sessions. These opportunities laid the foundation and allowed me to get my associate degree in science from CAC while still in high school. My greatest achievement will be graduating from college two weeks before graduating from high school.”

Cienna West
“I’ve lived in Arizona since I was 6 weeks old. I consider Maricopa my hometown because it’s the only town I ever remember living in. As I’ve grown up, I’ve also gotten to see how my town has grown and changed, and it’s been an amazing experience. Now, I’m preparing to try something new as I move to Flagstaff to attend Northern Arizona University in the coming fall.

“Becoming a second-degree black belt has been the most rewarding experience in my life. Not only did it take immense physical training, but I grew a lot in character, as well. I couldn’t have done it without everyone at my martial-arts school guiding me along the way.”

There are more than 500 seniors in the class of 2023 at Maricopa High. Graduation ceremonies are 6 p.m. on May 25 at the school.

Ten seniors were selected for the Senior Spotlight, representing a broad spectrum of talents and goals: Denver Bryant; Arianna Cox, Emily Dickerson; Isabella Ebner, Victoria Fuiava, Diana Harris, Lillian Judd, Dominick Miszewski, Georgia Nickens and Zoie Zimpleman.

Denver is interested in film/media production and would like to edit everything from commercials to documentaries, movies and television shows.

Arianna, who earned a J-100 JROTC scholarship, will pursue a career in aerospace engineering.

Emily will follow her passion as a writer at Montana State University.

Isabella wants to use her talents to pursue a career in environmental research.

Victoria, who enjoys photography, wishes to start a business where she helps businesses and creative freelance talent find one another.

Diana, who will enroll at Brigham Young University in the fall, wishes to enter the geopolitical field and would like to be a policy officer at the United Nations.

Life is a long journey and Lillian, an avid writer, plan to take some time while at college to figure out the direction she will take.

Dominick will look to the stars and pursue a career in rocket science.

For Georgia and Zoie, it’s full-STEM ahead as both are interested in science, technology, engineering and math. Georgia wants to be a web developer and Zoie wants to work in management information systems.

Denver Bryant
“My career goal is to attend Arizona State University in the fall to major in film/media production and to become a professional video editor. Maricopa High School has definitely prepared me for my career path, by offering me a digital photography internship that allowed me to edit, interview and film my own documentary for the community called ‘Finding Sunrise.’

“A great achievement was being able to work as an office aide at Maricopa Wells Middle School and working at the Maricopa Unified School District Human Resources Department at 17 years old. Working in these two professional settings really taught me how to build connections, teamwork and help others in need.”

Arianna Cox
“Aircraft and spacecraft have always fascinated me. High school has taught me about how time management is important to be successful, not only in school but in life, as well, especially to protect your mental state.

“My greatest achievement is getting the J-100 ROTC scholarship, because it will cover my tuition, housing and books while I get ready to serve as an officer in the U.S. Air Force after I graduate from Howard University.”

Emily Dickerson
“Throughout my high school years, I’ve been on the varsity tennis team, varsity golf team, Graphic Muse and the Graphic Design program, where I qualified for state competition twice, the President of the SkillsUSA Arizona State Officer Team, Link Crew, the 2023 Club, and President of NHS on top of Honors, AP and college classes. These experiences helped me enroll in Montana State University. I intend to major in English (Creative Writing) and minor in film.

“A great achievement in high school was publishing an anthology in my creative writing class with a few of my classmates, which led to me pinpointing my passion for writing. My career plan is to become an author, publishing my own books, and also work on film sets as a screenwriter while learning about the industry to produce my own TV series.”

Isabella Ebner
“I have had several memorable moments, but my favorites have been getting to inspire incoming freshmen with my school spirit during Freshman First Days. I loved getting to show them the best parts of campus, tell them personal stories on how I overcame difficulties, and leave them with wisdom and excitement as an experienced upperclassman.

“Additionally, my greatest achievement during these past four years is the amount of community service I have gotten to complete. National Honor Society has pushed me to complete at least 40 hours of service each year during my junior and senior years. I am so proud to have served with incredible local organizations and give back to the community I love.”

Victoria Fuiava
“My career goal after high school is to create a freelance business that’ll help other businesses find candidates who have the talent I was blessed with, and to earn a degree in marketing/advertising or business. At Maricopa High School, I was able to develop and hone my talents for photography, film, marketing, project management, service, scholarship, leadership, citizenship and a love for music.

“The main programs that have helped me achieve such growth were marketing, DECA, NHS and digital photography. To be honest, I’m mostly a quiet and reserved person, but through the MHS Marketing Program, I was able to meet more people and take initiative in opportunities that are useful. The NHS Program has taught me to better myself in order to better my community and the digital photography class has helped my vision in seeing different perspectives. These lessons learned are what I believe to be expedient for my career goals.”

Diana Harris
“During my four years of high school, I was the former Miss City of Maricopa’s Outstanding Teen 2020, former Youth Art Council Representative for Pinal County, co-president of the Maricopa Dance Team and co-captain of the first Maricopa High School Pom Team. In addition, I took numerous AP courses and honor classes, which awarded me a full scholarship at Brigham Young University.

“My ultimate dream career would be to become a political affairs officer for the United Nations. With my high school experiences, I feel inspired to take initiative in strengthening the international community. My roles at MHS allowed me to see pure diversity and share similarities and differences through our passions. Because of this environment, I can envision myself creating improvements for our country’s international affairs.”

Lillian Judd
“For now, my main career goal is to find a career that makes me happy. I have a few general ideas in mind for what I think I would like to do but have never settled on anything concrete. However, if my time at high school has taught me anything, it is that using the resources available to you is the key way to find what you are passionate about. Whether it be through classes, clubs or hands-on learning, I plan to take every opportunity I can in college to find the career that suits me best.

“My greatest achievement in high school was winning a first-place medal for an essay competition I participated in during my sophomore year. I have always loved writing, so I entered the competition on a whim, not really expecting much to come out of it. You can imagine my shock when I found out I won first place!”

Dominick Miszewski
“I have always been enchanted by the stars, always wanting to reach out and touch them. That’s why I’m studying aerospace engineering in college, to get my foot in the door of a field that will hopefully be my career. My goal is to own an engineering firm that deals with rocket technology.

“So far, my greatest achievement has been being a part of the Rocket Challenge program. Being able to help launch real rockets has given me valuable experience in the field I want to go into.”

Georgia Nickens
“I knew I had always wanted to do something with computers or code, growing up addicted to Super Smash Bros and Splatoon only made that clearer for me, but I had always struggled pursuing that dream. When I finally reached high school, I realized I had the chance to dip my toes into the internet world I idolized for the longest time. Once I got the chance, I immediately signed up for the computer maintenance class. Signing up for that class had to be the best decision I have ever made. I have not only gotten the chance to network within the IT industry and gain certifications as I take the classes but have also gotten to have hands-on work with technology.

“As I go on to college, I am happy that I can start with a higher position in the industry and have more control over my professional life through the experience I’ve gained here in high school, and I owe it all to the people around me: my parents, my teachers and, most importantly, my friends.”

Zoie Zimpleman
“At Maricopa High School, I have had the opportunity to be involved in Interact Club, Link Crew, Film Club, STEM Club, National Honor Society and Student Council. At school, I am a student who is dedicated to my studies, which led me to the top of my graduating class, as the salutatorian.

“I have chosen to further pursue my education at the University of Arizona-Eller School of Business, where I plan to pursue a business administration degree in management information systems. This year, I traveled with the MHS Travel Club along with some of my favorite teachers to Italy, Germany and Austria.”

Sequoia Pathway will send 42 graduates into the world with its commencement, at 6 p.m. on May 26 at the school.

The Pumas’ two selections for the Senior Spotlight are Kaliya Brown and Michael Luna-Fruit. Kaliya will attend Keystone College in Pennsylvania and pursue a career in medical diagnostics and Michael will play football for the Papago Pumas junior-college program while taking classes virtually at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah.

Kaliya Brown
“I have been at Pathway for five years and I’ve remained heavily involved as captain of our Lady Puma varsity volleyball team and participating in Student Council as our student body president. I have decided to major in health sciences with the goal of becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer. I think high school has prepared me in a multitude of ways by introducing me to a competitive environment that will be similar upon entering college and transitioning into the professional world. I’ve also attended CAVIT since my junior year.

“My greatest achievement is setting a new school volleyball record for the most kills, at 667.”
Michael Luna-Fruit
“Throughout high school, I have maintained a 3.6 grade-point average while still competing in varsity basketball all four years, varsity football and volleyball my junior and senior year. My career goal is to provide for the people around me in whatever career path I choose.

“My greatest achievement is committing and signing to play football while still pursuing an education in college. Overall, high school was fun, and I will have many memories to look back on.”