LH Rotary recognizes two amazing grads
By Jane Williams
La Habra Journal
The La Habra Rotary Club recognizes students each month for various reasons. Last month the club recognized two students who overcame challenges and adversity to be able to graduate at this years Class of 2014. This is a look at their two stories.
When La Habra High’s Class of 2014 marched into the stadium for graduation, there were a number of graduates with amazing accomplishments in academics, athletics and fine arts.
And then there was one marcher for whom it took a miracle and great determination to overcome many obstacles laid in his path.
Born in Arizona, Erick Salazar and his family moved to California right before he started first grade in West Covina and then moved several more times around Whittier where Erick attended Orchardale for fourth through eighth grades. Then they moved to La Habra and he began at La Habra High School as a freshman where he knew no one, fell in with a crowd and, as he says, “did my thing.”
Meanwhile that summer his father was arrested and sent to prison, and his mother was working hard to support the family.
“Dad had not been supporting us, and it was really hard on my mom,” Erick said. “She worked from nine in the morning until after six at night. I couldn’t stay focused and worried a lot.” His mom eventually began working two shifts at Kaiser, as a scheduling nurse and a pediatric nurse, starting at 4 a.m.
He fell behind in school, was placed in Opportunity classes and eventually went to La Vista High School in Fullerton. It was while he was there in legal and law class that he had a serious fainting episode. The doctor he saw told Erick and his mother that it was just his body changing.
Erick decided he wanted to graduate from what he considers an “official” high school. He had accumulated enough credits by taking six classes. At the same time he had another fainting episode while taking photographs in a mosh pit. Once again, his mother took him to the hospital and once again, the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong.
He kept up his schoolwork and got a part-time job to help his mom out.
“My mom always coddled me. She’s the biggest support of my life and let me know what was important every night at dinner when she asked ‘What did you learn today?’”
Right before Erick’s junior year, the family was getting set to move again and his mother got a job at Kaiser. She would wake up at 2:30 a.m., and from 4-8 a.m. she worked as a Kaiser schedule nurse, and then from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. she worked as a pediatric nurse.
Erick explained that he got a part-time job because he wanted “to help mom so she doesn’t have to work so hard. She works so much.” His father got out of prison on his mother’s birthday. They never married but had been together for 20 years after meeting each other in high school.
By his senior year, Erick had made up enough classes and accumulated enough credits to return to La Habra High. That was after Mr. Ide got him interested in computers and video, and other teachers encouraged his interest in history.
“Teachers are there not to just teach, but to help you when you need it and provide support when you need it,” said Erick. “A lot of students go through tons of pain. I learned you can’t stop pain, but you don’t have to let pain stop you. I know the struggle kids may be going through and keeping to themselves.”
Right before he turned 18, Erick had yet another fainting episode. This time, the doctors were able to diagnose what was wrong. It was supraventricular tachycardia, an extremely rapid heart rhythm of the upper heart chambers. The diagnosis was reached after running two catheters up veins in his leg to his heart and observing what was happening. It is a condition that can be managed with the proper care, which he now is receiving.
Through it all, Erick never lost sight of his desire to graduate from an “official high school.” So on May 27, with around 600 of his fellow classmates, he did just that. Despite changing schools often, his father going to prison, having a serious medical condition, his mom working so much to support the family. And that is the miracle.
The crashing economy affects not just the parents of students, but the students themselves. Sometimes those students don’t recognize how large the hole they are digging for themselves. Belen Mora is one of those.
She was born in Anaheim. Eight years or so ago, her sister graduated from Sonora High, but after that, the family bought a house in Victorville. There, Belen had family and made friends.
“It was very different there,” she said. “Over there more people speak Spanish at home, and it’s just more of a small town.”
Belen loved it. Just before she was to enter high school, her family lost their house like many others all over the country. And like many other families, they returned to La Habra where they had family who could help them start over.
Belen enrolled at Sonora, but many of her habits from Victorville stuck. Sometimes she went to school, sometimes she didn’t. Sometimes she did the homework, more often she didn’t. At the end of the year, it was time for a reality check. She had barely one half of the credits she needed. She was advised to enroll at La Vista.
“I had to make up a lot, plus take the higher level courses. Many of the students don’t recover from being far behind or get motivated. I always wanted to graduate from Sonora since my sister did. In fact, I could have stayed at La Vista and graduated early,” Belen explained.
By the middle of her junior year, Belen had made up all her missing credits and courses and was on track to graduate. And yes, she could return to Sonora High. Just like her sister. On May 28, she and the other members of Sonora’s Class of 2014 became Raider alumni. Belen hopes to attend college and major in criminal justice.
Asked what she would tell any incoming high school freshman, she immediately said, “Make sure you’re on track. If you don’t, you’ll regret it later.”