Pureza Avila is the Denair High School Class of 2021 valedictorian thanks to her 4.09 grade-point average. The salutatorian will be Brielle Prock, who compiled a 4.03 GPA over four years.
Graduation is set for May 28 at Jack Lytton Stadium. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. and the ceremony begins at 7 p.m. This year because of ongoing COVID concerns, seniors and their families will sit on both sides of the stadium to space people out. All seating will be pre-assigned and printed on graduation tickets (each graduate will receive six tickets).
Avila and Prock recently took time to answer some questions about their high school experiences.
Question: Obviously, the Class of 2021 has had a much different educational experience because of the pandemic and a year of school held primarily via distance learning. How do you think that will shape you and your classmates?
Avila: During the pandemic, we all learned new skills and developed values that further shaped our character. This year definitely made us stronger, open-minded and more caring towards each other. These intangibles will help us be more successful in life as we enter adulthood. As I state in my valediction: “While we all have individual aspirations, varied skills and definitely different levels of motivation, we have learned that what we do possess is a boundless capacity to care for each other. We also found a way to dig deep, conquer our fears and achieve goals, even if those goals were just set yesterday.”
Prock: I think that this past year made our class realize what real life will be. Once we walk
across the stage and receive our diploma, we are all going to go our separate ways. This past year was just a glimpse of that, and it made my classmates and I realize that we need to appreciate every moment we have left here at Denair High School.
Q: What are the key things other students should know about your academic success and how you achieved it?
Prock: I think the key thing that other students should know about my academic success is that you do not have to follow the A-G track to become successful. I did not follow that certain track and I was admitted into Oklahoma State University last July and now I am the salutatorian of my class.
Avila: I think that in order to obtain success, a person really has to remember their purpose and make sacrifices for it. To me, it was staying home and doing homework, instead of partying it up on the weekends. This should not infer that I did not have fun; I just had to prioritize and realize that the activities in which I invested my time were deeply going to influence my achievements.
Q: How much time outside of regular class did you spend studying or doing homework?
Avila: Depending on the workload, I spent anywhere from two to five hours a day studying or doing homework.
Prock: It honestly depends on the day. During distance learning, I usually spent at least two hours working on homework. Now that we are back in school, it has gone down to about an hour because I have more time in class to work on it.
Q: Which classes and/or teachers at Denair High had the most influence on you?
Prock: In some way, all of my classes and teachers have impacted me because at Denair classes are not just about the material, you are guaranteed a life lesson each day. The most influential classes for me have been my agricultural classes because my life has revolved around since I was born. My ag advisors have made the most impact on me because I spend a lot of time with them outside of class for contests and other FFA events.
Avila: Being a daughter of immigrants, I spread awareness of what it’s like to not know the education system — a system that my parents are not familiar with because they didn’t go to school. In my speech, I thank the teacher who had the most influence on me by saying: “When I entered high school, I was very naive of all the opportunities offered and their impact on students. During my freshman year, in Spanish 1, a substitute teacher, Mr. Mendoza, told me about AP Spanish. It wasn’t until then that I became aware of AP courses. When I took the exam the following year, I passed with a 5. So I thank Mr. Mendoza, a substitute teacher who truly changed my academic path. If it weren’t for Mr. Mendoza making me aware of and motivating me to take AP courses, I might not have been your valedictorian. I am forever grateful to him because I owe a major part of my success to someone simply taking the time to show me the system.”
Q: How many Advanced Placement classes were you able to take? Were you challenged?
Avila: I took a total of five AP classes during my entire high school experience. I took AP Spanish Language and Composition my sophomore year and even though Spanish is my native language, I was challenged with the rules of writing due to migrating here at a young age and not being able to perform or exercising the language consistently, or at a level that would expose my proficiency. As a junior, I took AP English Language and even though it is my second language, I felt more confident in the class since I had had more years of instruction on it. This should not infer that it wasn’t challenging; there were several concepts that gave me a hard time. This year, I took AP English Literature, AP U.S. Government and Politics, and AP Macroeconomics. I definitely don’t think any of these classes were challenging, but what I do believe made the experience a bit more overwhelming was the collective workload.
Prock: This year, I took AP Macroeconomics and AP Government and Politics. I would say that AP Government was a little more challenging than AP Macroeconomics because Macroeconomics is based on math and Government is more fact-based. My junior year, I was able to take AP U.S. History and it was a pretty easy class because I found all the information interesting.
Q: What kind of culture of learning exists in your home? What has that meant for your success in high school?
Prock: My parents just expect me to do my best. I think that this has driven me to succeed because I know I am capable of achieving great things.
Avila: Being a first-generation college-bound student, I live in a very supportive environment. My parents have motivated me in endless ways because they believe that education is vital to success. This, however, also created many expectations from my parents and myself. I did not want to bring home a failing score because I considered it disrespectful to their sacrifice and hard work. Furthermore, bringing a failing score was by no means acceptable in my household. Therefore, the expectations I had to fulfill and the constant reminder that I had to make my parents proud were key points in my success in high school. Ultimately, I believe that a student’s success is mainly influenced by the encouragement and beliefs they have at home.
Q: What should members of the community know about the quality of education at Denair High?
Avila: The education at Denair High School has been very innovative and motivating. Our staff truly motivates us to succeed by hosting college fairs and implementing new courses like the AVID program, ROX program and the Make Your Passion Your Paycheck course by Torrance Hampton. These have assisted our life skills, and our social, emotional and mental health. At this month’s board meeting, our superintendent, Dr. Metzger, also mentioned providing the students with workshops in the years ahead, to learn things like changing a flat tire and doing taxes. For this reason, it’s important for members of the community to know that the education at Denair High does not only focus on academics, but also on making their students well-rounded and outgoing.
Prock: Denair High School is most definitely one big family. Every teacher cares about each of their students and that flows into the education. Honestly, I could not imagine life at any other school.
Q: Outside of class, what kinds of teams, organizations or clubs are you involved in? How important are extracurricular activities in preparing you for college and beyond?
Prock: I am heavily involved within the national FFA organization as I am currently serving as the 2020-21 Denair FFA President. FFA is probably the best organization a student can go into if they are interested in premier leadership, personal growth and career success.
Avila: I was involved in a women empowerment program, known as Ruling Our Experiences (ROX) and in Hispanic Youth Leadership Council (HYLC). I also took part in drama, yearbook and scorekeeping for our baseball team. This year, I am serving as ASB Treasurer and Student Board Member. Personally, extracurricular activities have pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and take on big roles, while being shy by nature. For this reason, I believe that involvement in extracurricular activities provides us with the benefit of learning about time management, responsibility, problem solving, risk taking, teamwork and social skills, all which prepare us for college and beyond.
Q: What is the right balance for teens busy with school, teams or clubs, and even part-time jobs?
Avila: When a student is extremely involved, especially when they gain more responsibilities as they get older, it all comes down to prioritizing and managing your time wisely.
Prock: I think every student has their own balance. For me, I had to learn to not get over involved. I had to realize I could only be involved as much as I could handle.
Q: What are your college and career plans?
Prock: In the fall, I will be attending Oklahoma State University where I will double major in Ag Communications and Agribusiness. I will also be a student of the honors college and a member of the President’s Leadership Council. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, I plan to attend law school with the hopes of becoming an agricultural lawyer.
Avila: I will be attending UC Davis in the fall and majoring in Political Science with the end goal of becoming an immigration attorney.
Q: What themes are you going to talk about in your graduation speech?
Avila: My valediction covers the majority of the question prompts, but the main themes I am highlighting are value and growth.
Prock: My speech is about living in the moment. I want to make sure that my classmates understand the importance of appreciating the people you met and living in the moment.