Class of 2018: Steamboat senior overcomes language barrier, long work hours to graduate early
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Aracely Hernandez Torres moved from Chihuahua, Mexico, to Steamboat Springs four years ago, she had no intention of attending high school here. She was 16, living with her sister and working as a dishwasher at a downtown restaurant.
But after a few months on the job, Torres said she became frustrated with her inability to communicate with co-workers and customers.
“I did not speak English,” Torres said. “There were times when people ask you something and I couldn’t answer back. That’s when I decided to go to school.”
She began attending classes at Steamboat Springs High School and had plans to quit school after she learned English, but inspiring teachers and interesting classwork made her want to stay.
Torres lists Dani Booth, Meghan Hanson-Peters and Britta Baker among the teachers who believed in her and helped Torres believe in herself.
“They were always telling me, ‘you can do it,’” Torres said. “They were the teachers who were always believing in me and pushing me.”
Torres, who came to the U.S. on a visa, said beginning school was “scary and hard.”
She remembers being afraid she’d have no one to eat lunch with, and on those first few days of school, she couldn’t find her classes.
“It was so hard,” Torres said.
But it didn’t take long for Torres to make friends. First, two girls from Mexico introduced themselves and then she began meeting others in class.
“I feel welcome here, and now, I have many American friends,” Torres said. “When we had to work on projects, students would say, ‘Aracely come here, work with us.’ They made me more comfortable.”
In addition to learning a new language, Aracely also developed a love for math and chemistry.
“In Mexico, I didn’t like school and now I like it,” Torres said. “We have more computers, more resources here. The teachers are also really good, and if I don’t understand something, they always have time to explain it to me after class.”
When Torres graduates on June 2 at age 20, her sister, her brother-in-law and her niece will be applauding her but so will her parents, who have traveled to Steamboat from Mexico for the big day.
“It’s something I’ve been working hard for,” Torres said. “My father always says he’s proud of me because I worked and went to school at the same time and had good grades.”
While working six hours a day, five days a week and attending school full time, Torres earned As and Bs – “and a few Cs” — and will graduate with a 3.0 grade point average.
Steamboat Springs High School college/career counselor Danica Moss said Torres took a “very academic” load of classes, including chemistry, biology and world history, and impressively, is graduating a semester early.
Moss was also impressed with Torres’ outgoing personality and her tenacity.
“She was one of the warmest and friendly students on campus,” Moss said. “She was never afraid to engage in conversation, which helped her develop her English quite quickly.
“She also has a work ethic like no other,” Moss added. “When you see how hard she worked in school and to know how many hours she spent at her job, it’s incredible. But I would have never known this because every time I talked with her she was bright eyed and smiling.”
When Torres isn’t working or studying, she enjoys playing soccer, watching movies and hanging out with friends.
After graduation, Torres said she plans to take a year off, work and save money so she can take classes at Colorado Mountain College. She said she thinks she would enjoy studying criminology or psychology in college.
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