From the get-go, they had a knack for figuring out gizmos, gadgets and complicated things.
Understanding computers – their languages and many uses – comes naturally to McKenna Webb and Mathew Abenojar, two of the very best from Auburn Riverside High School’s class of ’19.
“I’ve always been the family IT (information technology) guy,” said Webb, releasing a smile. “Anything technical in the house? I was the first one called.”
Abenojar replied: “Working IT has always been a dream of mine ever since I was a kid … when my dad would let me tinker on my first computer and Windows 98. … I wanted to follow in his footsteps (as an engineer).”
Bright and ambitious, Webb and Abenojar wish to explore more of the IT world at college. The two seniors aspire one day to protect their country from cyber attacks.
“For the CIA, maybe,” Webb said.
“For the Department of Defense,” said Abenojar.
Webb’s next step takes her to Lehigh University, a private school in the hamlet of Bethlehem, Pa. Abenojar, a Running Start student, will finish work on his associate degree in IT at Green River College this summer and pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the cyber security program at University of Washington Tacoma.
Both students will leave Auburn Riverside with major awards, honors and scholarship support.
Webb welcomes the change of pace and new challenges to bring out the best in a 4.0 honor student who understands hard work and long hours.
“I feel so lucky just to get admitted to a great school,” she said. “Lehigh offers a rigorous education and sets you up for the working world. It sets students up for success.”
While she plans to major in computer science, Webb will minor in theater, something dear to her heart. She’s passionate about the stage, her sanctuary away from flat screens, codes and keyboards.
Webb has excelled as an actress, director and producer. She has performed in more than 20 musicals and plays throughout the Seattle area and participated in the prestigious Summer Musical Theater Institute at Wagner College in New York City. That experience in New York fueled her drive to return to the Northeast for college. Lehigh sits between the Big Apple and Philadelphia, about a 90-minute drive to either city.
She also has been a catalyst in community theater, having produced and directed Broadway for #BrAvery for the past three years, a spring benefit show for the Avery Huffman Defeat DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma) Foundation to fund medical research needed to fight this deadly form of pediatric brain cancer. Webb, her family and supporters established the foundation in memory of Avery, a 7-year-old Auburn girl and friend, who lost her fight with the disease three years ago.
Broadway for #BrAvery has raised nearly $30,000 in three shows for the foundation.
Webb thought long and hard about exclusively pursuing the theater arts, but an IT job promises a firm foundation to pay for voice and dance lessons. Theater will always be there for her.
“It will fund my dream,” Webb said. “I don’t want to be a starving artist.”
Webb, daughter of Amee and Dean Webb, was a part of the school choir, SkillsUSA, a career and technical student organization, the National Honors Society, and, of course, the drama department. She received an honors ranking from the International Thespian Society.
She looks back fondly at her years at Auburn Riverside, a school that has prepared her well for college. She credits many people for her success, notably Katy Nuttman, theater and language arts teacher.
“The school, especially the people here, is unparalleled,” she said. “They have shaped me into the person that I am.”
Looking for a high school to attend, Abenojar found a home at AR, with its computer maintenance program. He blossomed under the tutelage of Frank Medina, who teaches computer systems engineering in his technology classes.
Abenojar, son of George and Maricel Abenojar, shone in SkillsUSA as a state IT champion who has qualified to compete at nationals in Louisville, Ky., next week. He has gained valuable experience as an IT intern for the Auburn School District since 2017.
Along with Medina, Japanese language instructor Akiko Newcomb has been influential in Abenojar’s growth.
”The Auburn Riverside experience has been fantastic,” Abenojar said. “I knew it would be a great place to be.”
Auburn Memorial Stadium, 801 Fourth St. NE
Saturday, June 15
• 11 a.m. – Auburn Mountainview High School
• 4 p.m. – Auburn Riverside High School
Performing Arts Center, 702 Fourth St. NE
• 1:30 p.m. – West Auburn High School
Sunday, June 16
Auburn Memorial Stadium
• 4 p.m. – Auburn High School