High school seniors across the country saw their final year implode as COVID-19 stripped away many of the spring events that normally put a big exclamation point on the achievement of graduation. But that hasn’t stopped these outstanding seniors from pursuing their goals. So far, they have earned over $7.7 million in scholarships. At Maricopa High School, 440 seniors have special honors and distinctions and 165 are senior award recipients.
MHS’s virtual Senior Awards Night video: https://youtu.be/UZ3wb1fKK7Y

Freya Abraham
Maricopa High School
The valedictorian of MHS Class of 2020 spent all her school years in Maricopa. Her career goal is to be a pediatric neurologist, working in healthcare advocacy and public policy. She has earned the highest GPA in MHS history and was named the mathematics and AP Student of the Year. She also earned the most local, state and national honors in school history.
How are you achieving your career goal? Attending University of Arizona as a Baird Scholar, attend best possible medical school for neurology. I participated in Banner Health volunteer, T-Gen Bioscience Leadership Program, Maricopa STEM club, job shadow medical professionals, Project Puente Microbiology intern [anticipated], many hours spent researching and applying, JSA director of expansion (policy exposure) and DECA (marketing and presentation skills).
Greatest achievement: National and state scholarships and awards including National Merit finalist, Presidential Scholar candidate, Coca-Cola semi-finalist, Flinn semifinalist. Winning second place in the world for Business Marketing Services at DECA’s 2018 International Career Development Conference, being on the international stage and making friends from across the country.
COVID-19: I’m not frustrated with anyone or anything in particular, except maybe for myself for paying for things too far in advance. It’s hard to believe in the intensity of my losses when I see death counts rising and the struggles of healthcare workers worldwide. I feel blessed to have the option to stay home with my family and be safe; I didn’t realize that was a privilege before.

Riley Bell
Maricopa High School
A Maricopa native, Riley is a noted dancer who performed with the MHS dance and theater troupes this year. She received an Academic Excellence award. She plans to become a hospital pharmacist.
How are you achieving your career goal? I plan to attend CAC to finish my general studies, then transfer to U of A. From there I plan to do pharmacy school.
Greatest achievement: Assuming the role of president of MHS’s dance company and choreographing countless dance pieces throughout my high school career. My favorite memories from high school are a collection of the hours and hours of rehearsing for recital with my dance family.
COVID-19: With the cancellation of the remainder of our senior year, I regret not taking advantage of the time I had left; I wish I would have cherished it more. The biggest sting is not having a “senior-spring recital.” I have been preparing myself for years for my last time on stage and I was not ready to say goodbye.

Cassandra Bonah
Maricopa High School
A Maricopa native, Cassandra participated in student council and plans to be a general physician for low-income and marginalized communities and eventually run for public office to encourage healthcare reform.
How are you achieving your career goal? Obtain a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and a minor in law and society at NAU to eventually attend medical school. I currently take AP and Honors courses to prepare myself for the rigor and intensity of university and medical school. I also spend my time volunteering to help low-income communities through church.
Greatest accomplishment: Being awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Dream award. It felt nice to be recognized in the name of someone I respect and admire so much. My favorite memory has been Mr. MHS. I was a part of the student council committee for it and seeing it all come together was just amazing.
COVID-19: It was difficult at first to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my senior prom or walk the stage at graduation due to COVID-19. However, it’s nice to see the Class of 2020 in MUSD, as well as all over Arizona, recognizing one another and supporting each other through this. It’s comforting to know that we’re all in this together.

Brielle Duff
Sequoia Pathway
Brielle has lived in Maricopa less than a year after moving from Kentucky. She is graduating from Pathway as salutatorian of the Class of 2020. She is pursuing a career in music.
How are you achieving your career goal? I have been accepted into Western Kentucky University’s music program, which I will be attending in the fall, and I am dedicating myself to my music.

Greatest achievement: Overcoming the obstacles in my life that held me back from my potential. It felt freeing and satisfying. If I had stayed in that situation, I would still be trapped in my own belief that I couldn’t achieve anything worthwhile with my life. Now I am on my way to making an impact.
COVID-19: It has hindered me from getting the benefits of classroom learning, but it has allowed me more time to spend with family and work on my career interest. While losing educational hours is a loss, the virtual learning has allowed me to work on my own schedule and increase my self-discipline.

Roberto Esqueda Quintana
Maricopa High School
Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, Roberto has lived in Maricopa 11 years and played four seasons of MHS football. His career goal is to help preserve buildings for centuries to come.
How are you achieving your career goal? I have applied for many scholarships and have started diving deep into the field and what I will have to learn in college. Attend ASU and get my degree in architecture.
Greatest achievement: Being able to succeed in Honors and AP classes while being a multi-sport varsity athlete and having many
hours of community service throughout my high school career.
COVID-19: It is quite sad; a lot of things were taken from me, but I have no doubt in my mind that we will pull through and find a way to please everyone.

Yasmeen Hanania
Maricopa High School
Yasmeen has spent all her school years in Maricopa, moving with her family from California when she was 4. She plans to attend ASU W.P. Carey School of Business to be an entrepreneur and study political science to enter government.
How are you achieving your career goal? I have interned with City Hall before and have campaigned for my State Officer position with Arizona DECA. I also am taking marketing and have participated and helped run Market Day at Maricopa High School and have presented my business idea to entrepreneurs to get advice and connections to start my business.
Greatest achievement: Becoming a state officer for Arizona DECA, representing District 9 and being able to be a part of an organization that has helped shape me and has prepared me for my future and being able to give back to my members and hold conferences and events for them. Also qualifying for ICDC the last two years and getting glass at State.
COVID-19: We have worked so hard and accomplished so much and the fact that all the rewards we get for our accomplishments that other graduates were able to get have been taken away by a disease is extremely devastating, but I understand that it is for our safety and that the Class of 2020 is still going to be the best graduating class.

Angello Hernandez de la Peña
Maricopa High School
Gianni discovered computer programming in middle school and now has set his sights on becoming a software engineer at a large company. What he’ll be doing, he said, depends on whether he goes to graduate school. He was named MHS science Student of the Year and was admitted to Harvard College.
How are you achieving your career goal? I will study computer science at Harvard and possibly pursue Artificial Intelligence for graduate school, depending on my interest by that time. I also plan to minor in history or political science. I have already learned to program in Python, C++ and Java. 
Greatest achievement: Being accepted to Harvard. Other than that, I would say my greatest accomplishment has been my acceptance to and participation in the SAMS summer program at Carnegie Mellon last year. The program helped me immensely through the college application process and made me even more excited to pursue computer science in college.
COVID-19: School shutting down has made it difficult to stay motivated about my classes. Being stuck inside all day without any in-person contact with my friends takes a toll after a while. I’m also disappointed I won’t be able to see my friends speak at graduation or walk on stage. However, I understand this is all being done to protect the safety of ourselves and others. I hope the situation clears in time for the next school year to begin and our city is not hit heavily by the pandemic.

Haley Lemon
Maricopa High School
A 12-year student in Maricopa, Haley has had a diverse high school experience and has diverse plans for her future. She was named the drama and theatre arts Student of the Year and is the salutatorian of MHS Class of 2020.
How are you achieving your career goal? I am going to NAU in the fall and the plan is to begin with an associate degree studying in the fields of English, studio art and/or forestry. I will then serve a mission with my church and return to school to complete my bachelor’s and go from there. I am a person who feels obligated to constantly be working on myself. I work hard to do my best morally, academically and creatively in all areas of my life, and I hope that effort is enough to give me the opportunities of growth and experience I would like to have in life.
Greatest achievement: I was amazingly lucky to be able to be both the president of the internationally recognized MHS Theatre Company and the salutatorian of the Class of 2020. I consider both of these opportunities in such high regard I cannot pick which one is greater.
COVID-19: I think it has made me realize something very important about how I should treat the rest of my life. When I first realized my senior year had basically ended, I wrestled a lot with the knowledge that the show I was waiting months to direct was cancelled, that I would get no chance to give a speech to thousands of people like I had dreamed of, that I wouldn’t get the senior week I was so excited for and that no one else in my class would either. I realized the titles were pointless, but the effort I put into them and the growth I received from them wasn’t. I did what I could, and though the physical rewards I don’t get to experience, I do get to go into the rest of my life knowing I have the capacity to always try my best and be personally successful just for my own peace of mind.

Juan Marquez
Maricopa High School
A native Californian, Juan and his family moved to Maricopa in 2019, and he found a way to excel in a new school for his senior year. He plans to attend Grand Canyon University while working for Proof Pest Control.
How are you achieving your career goal? My career goal is to find something that makes me happy, so I don’t work a day in my life. I am practicing yoga, reading books on interesting topics, and searching for my heart’s desires.
Greatest achievement: Becoming Mr. MHS, joining the wrestling team and being able to start at a new place and still do good. My favorite memory from high school is the interaction between students and all the smiles and laughs that took place.
COVID-19: It hasn’t stopped me. I’m still having a blast. There is always a good side and bad side. It matters what you look at and become.

Leah Peterson
Sequoia Pathway
A native Maricopan, Leah is the valedictorian of her class at Pathway. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which inspired her to set her career goal toward being a nurse.
How are you achieving your career goal? When I was diagnosed, I spent some time in the ICU and it gave me insight and made me feel very thankful for the nurses who watched and took care of me as well as reassuring me in a hard time. I hope to be this way to someone else in the future. The steps I am taking to reach this is going to a university. I have been accepted into Grand Canyon University and will start classes that will prepare me for being a nurse. I was also accepted into their Honors College which will provide me many opportunities as well.
Greatest achievement: Becoming valedictorian of my graduating class. School has never been easy for me, and I have had to work really hard to get to where I am. My advice for others would be no matter what your goals are just try your best and work hard at it. You won’t be disappointed by the results.
COVID-19: It has affected my senior year tremendously. It’s sad that I may not see my classmates again and may not have a prom or graduation or be able to have the same experiences as other senior classes before me. I hope I will be able to have a graduation when things get back to normal. 

Elijah Quinto
Maricopa High School
A standout on the color guard auxiliary for his school’s marching band, Elijah came to Maricopa five years ago. He plans to teach high school science and wants to be part of a professional-level color guard. He was named one of just six Winterguard Arizona scholarship recipients.
How are you achieving your career goal? Finishing high school and starting CAC classes in fall of 2020.
Greatest achievement: Being promoted at work to become a shift lead at Dutch Bros. My favorite memory of high school would be all the times during band and band competitions. I think getting a caption in our auxiliary section was my favorite part.
COVID-19: I unfortunately let go of high school after we learned our winterguard season would be cut short due to COVID-19, therefore I lost hope in all aspects of life in terms of finishing the last year of my formal education. I know, however, that I will still strive for my own education in the future and if that means online school, then we must change our norm.

Alex-Ann Velasco
Maricopa High School
A self-described Army brat, Alex-Ann came to Maricopa her sophomore year. With a wide array of talents exhibited at MHS, she plans to hone her studies to become an obstetrician.
How are you achieving your career goal? Studying biomedical science in the Honors College at Northern Arizona University. I will use my biomedical science degree to meet all my prerequisite requirements for medical school.

Greatest achievement: My costume designs competing at the Central Arizona Festival of Theatre and qualifying to compete at the International Thespian Festival. Also, reading “The Flea” by John Donne in my sophomore honors English class or getting on the roof for the first time as the Fiddler in last year’s production of Fiddler on the Roof.
COVID-19: Events like graduation, senior awards night, cap decorating, prom and even dress shopping were things I looked forward to for years. I understand it is better to take extra precautions for our safety than to risk anyone getting seriously sick or worse. But it is still a bummer to check your phone after a shower to see more has been canceled in what seems to be the blink of an eye. We worked hard for years to earn all the fun senior activities that we no longer get.

This story appears in part in the May issue of InMaricopa.