Outstanding grads: Auburn Mountainview’s Tenbeta Esayase and Kendyl Walker

Kendyl Walker’s twin passions for art and the Japanese language entwined about her when she was a shy little girl growing up on Auburn’s Lea Hill, and never let go.

And as she advanced through Lea Hill Elementary and Rainier Middle School, her fascinations gathered strength at every step, so that when she took up her studies at Auburn Mountainview High School four years ago, it was graphic design and Japanese language all the way.

“I think it was how different it is in Japan compared to here in America and how the different cultures treat things differently,” Walker said of her interests. “Honestly, a big part of it was anime. I like to draw. That’s where my passion for art came from. It all stemmed from anime, and continued to grow from there.”

When the straight A student graduated with the top or her class this month, she was as fascinated as ever, she said, by the sorts of “words, ideas and concepts” that cannot cross the linguistic barrier.

This fall, Walker moves on to Green River College to earn her AA degree. She will spend her first quarter of college life in Japan.

But she has yet to settle on a career.

“Originally, I did want to do something with my art in graphic design or as a freelance artist. But I have also thought about being a freelance writer and author publishing books. I could also become an English teacher in Japan or an interpreter later on,” Walker said.

Immersing herself in everything Japanese, Walker said, helped her gain the confidence in herself she had once lacked. Confidence that encouraged her in her senior year to put in to be a teacher’s assistant to first-year students just starting their Japanese studies.

“Not only was it an opportunity for me as a shy person to break out of my shell, it was a really good experience for me to lock in what I have learned previously,” she said.

Walker’s peers at Auburn Mountainview High School thought so much of her they recently made her Senior of the Year. And when her Japanese teacher got up to talk about her, she unwittingly supplied what could become Walker’s motto: “I’d rather die than live without passion.”

For Walker, if the subject is too easy, it isn’t worth the trouble. She embraces the difficulty of wrestling hard subjects and, in her eyes, “problems worthy of attack, prove their worth by striking back.”

“I have tried to take AP classes the whole time I have been here, some better than others,” she said. But if those classes had been easy, she said, she wouldn’t have learned as much.

The return to physical school after the rough days of the pandemic made Walker’s senior year her best year. She is vice president of the Japan club and an active member in the school’s LGBTQ club

“To have full school again, it’s been amazing. I felt I had a lot of freedom. I was burned out with online school.”

Walker is the daughter of Lisa Beltran-Walker and Carl James Walker. She has an older brother, Tyler Powell, 11 years her senior, and a sister, Karli Bolton, who is 12 years older.

Tenbeta Esayase

One of the first things that you pick up about 17-year-old Tenbeta Esayase is that here is one easy-going kid, blessed with the sort of warm smile that puts strangers at the sort of ease that turns them into fast friends.

Indeed, it takes some convincing on Esayase’s part to persuade you that he was ever “reserved,” as he says. Yet, as a recent cross-country transplant who left all his buddies back East, then had to suffer through two years of COVID-19 induced isolation when he got here, that was the case.

So when Auburn Mountainview High School opened up again in time for his senior year, the gregarious Esayase wasn’t long in gathering loads of new friends.

Especially on the soccer pitch, his home away from home for most of his life.

“This is my first year without COVID,” said Esayase. “I come from Virginia, so that was really hard. But having soccer back and meeting all these new guys, going out to dinner after games, winning all those games, it’s been really fun.”

Esayas will attend Western Washington University this fall to study kinesiology. He hopes to become a physical therapist.

“I grew up interested in the medical field, and I want to take deep dive into it. I really loved my sports medicine and anatomy classes here. They really helped me fall more in love with the profession,” Esayase explained.

At one time, Esayase added, he had thought about becoming a physician, but the amount of schooling required would have been too much.

His anatomy and sports medicine teacher, Erin Hall, was his favorite.

“She really cares about her students. She’s more than a teacher, she’s more like a second mom to me,” he said.

Esayase’s parents, originally from Ethiopia, settled in north Auburn near Cascade Middle School after the cross-country move/ He speaks Amharic and English.

Esayase said he is not the sort to live in the past or wallow in regrets, preferring instead, he says, to “look forward.”

His advice to the whipper snappers coming along: “Stay true to yourself, do what you love, 100 percent. And know that there is always another way.”