Briseida ‘Brise’ Lopez and Wthson Akeand graduate with their West Auburn High School class on Saturday, an achievement that seemed out of reach for both of them only a short time ago. ROBERT WHALE, Auburn Reporter

Briseida ‘Brise’ Lopez and Wthson Akeand graduate with their West Auburn High School class on Saturday, an achievement that seemed out of reach for both of them only a short time ago. ROBERT WHALE, Auburn Reporter

Making the most of second chances

Lopez, Akeand find their way at West Auburn

The Briseida “Brise” Lopez who started high school at Auburn Riverside four years ago hated being around people, especially loud people, was quick to take offense, get up in your face, throw a punch.

Throughout her freshman and sophomore years, Lopez was, in her words, “a disruptor.”

“I’d get up and speak my mind, tell ’em, ‘I don’t like you, you’re too loud, be quiet.’ I’d get really annoyed and start fights … I was reckless. I never wanted to come to school. I was always trying to find a way to get out of school,” Lopez said.

She made sporadic efforts to change, but nothing took – the suspensions continued, cutting mortally into her credits. And when a counselor told Lopez in her sophomore year she was not going to graduate with her class, she decided no, that would not be.

“Once I heard that, I knew it wasn’t about other people any more, it was about me,” Lopez said.

When Lopez transferred to West Auburn High School. in her junior year, a new person started to take shape. A young woman who rose early, worked her tail off, racked up the credits and knocked ’em down as she went.

So much so, that when “Pomp and Circumstance” plays on Saturday in the Auburn Performing Arts Center, the 18-year-old Algona woman will be where she never thought she’d be – with her graduating class, getting her high school diploma.

Today, the young woman who once thought only of dropping out of school, and getting along thereafter on whatever jobs she could pick up, hopes to join the Air Force, get her bachelor’s degree, become a nurse.

For this, she credits Marcey Anderson, the West Auburn High School counselor, known for getting down in the trenches with her kids.

“She was like a second mom to me,” said Lopez. “She’s the reason I am where I am now. If it weren’t for her, I would still have another year to graduate.”

Critically, it was Anderson who told Lopez about Washington Youth Academy, a five-month-long, academic boot camp in Bremerton. If she could make it through, she’d pick up eight credits. She made it through.

Favorite classes? Lopez laughs.

“I’m not really good at algebra, but once I understood it, it was like ‘whoa.’ I am able to do things now I couldn’t back then. I still don’t like math, but when you understand something that you struggled with, that’s a great thing.”

Rising from the ruins

When 18-year old Wthson Akeand graduates with the 2018 West Auburn High School class on Saturday, his whole clan will be there to see it happen, flashing big smiles.

“Mom is happy. She’s going all out for me for graduating. She’s throwing a party, and she’s spending lot of money on it. That lets me know she’s happy,” Akeand said.

Want to know who his mother is? Be at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday, she’ll be the one with the biggest grin.

Here’s why.

When Akeand, a Marshall Islands native, began his freshmen year at Auburn High School, he was more into skipping than being there.

“I didn’t like school at all, I was slacking for a whole semester. In the second semester, I came here,” he recalled.

Life at home was messed up.

“My family was going through a lot,” Akeand recalled. “My dad went to jail. I started not caring. And then I got involved with some gang activities and things like that. I had no hope. My mom kept telling me, ‘Boy, you better graduate for me, or you’ll end up in jail, just like your father.’ ”

So he made the move to West Auburn. But where for so many students a transfer like that spurs immediate change, this kid was a tougher customer. He continued to skip school throughout his sophomore year.

“One day, I was by myself, thinking, ‘Dang, what am I going to do in life if I don’t graduate?’ At that time, I’d been kicked out of this school by the principal. Mr. Aarstad was new at the time. I told my lawyer I wanted to come back to school. She set up a meeting with Mr. Aarstad. When I came in that day. I was like, ‘I’ve gotta change, You oughta give me a chance.’ And he did. That’s what happened,” Akeand said.

Life for the one-time slacker would never be the same.

“I decided in my second semester to give it my all, so I did. My teachers talked to me a lot; they motivated me to do good,” Akeand said. “All the teachers here are great, they believe in their students, they want their students to succeed in life. They motivated me. I went to school all day, every day. I started doing the work. I got all my credits that year. I took a Marshallese cultural test and that gave me up to three credits. This year I went to the Youth Academy, which is a military-type thing, and got eight credits. That was really hard. But I’ve got 21 credits now, and I am good to graduate.”

Now, Akeand, who likes to spend his free time rapping with friends, expects to enlist in the U.S. Navy.

“I am going to serve in the military, that’s my plan,” said Akenad, with quiet but evident pride.

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