Angel rises from the pain

Teen overcomes her past, excels in the community, school and life

Minutes before Gabriella Quintana was to deliver her final speech as governor of Girls State last June – her topic was children’s health care – a tooth broke.

Every syllable she uttered impaled her tongue on the sharp spike that remained, shredding her tongue and filling her mouth with blood and tissue. But Gabriella kept going.

“It was ironic,” Quintana said. “There I was, speaking about the need to improve children’s health care as my tongue was being cut by a broken tooth because I don’t have good dental.”

This 18-year-old Auburn girl has had a lot of jagged edges in her life.

At 3, a relative abused her, ripping apart her family. Her mother, Pamela (Anderson) Quintana, poor, single and disabled, struggled to raise the girl on her own. Yet along the way she instilled in Gabriella a keen and lasting sense of obligation to her community and her world, packing up their old car and filling it with food for the homeless, seeing that she volunteered to help the less fortunate.

She grew into a compassionate young woman with tremendous drive and high ambitions.

Today the Auburn Mountainview High School senior is a Presidential Academic Scholar. Listed in the Who’s Who of American High School Students, she is president of the school’s Honors Society, captain of the varsity tennis team, past president of the Latin Club, vice president of the Key Club, and for the last three years a varsity cheerleader. She was also the first girl Auburn ever elected governor of Girls State. This winter, she competed in the Miss Auburn Scholarship Pageant.

Gabriella has taken every advanced placement class that Mountainview High School offers, feeding a voracious appetite for history, politics, philosophy and, it seems, every other branch of knowledge.

Now comes word that the 16-hour school days, the midnight and 4 a.m. study sessions, the academic and social rigors she has undergone have impressed some very important people. Reed College in Portland, Ore., one of the top schools in the nation, has given her a full-ride scholarship.

“They called my school,” Gabriella recalled. “They didn’t just send a package, they told me. I burst out crying. My mother cried; she was so happy for me. I knew it was a perfect fit.”

Reed was Gabriella’s top choice, not only because it is a liberal college but because it encourages intellectual and political thought. Reed does not give merit scholarships because it is so selective that it is willing to pay the tuition. In the end the scholarship will be worth about $200,000.

“I am happy knowing I’ve got this huge future ahead of me. I can’t wait to use it, to go on and do bigger and better things. Contributing to the community is the biggest thing,” Gabriella said.

“I am so proud of her,” said Pamela. “She is my angel. She just never gives up. She is one of the most driven people I know. This kid is so strong and so full of life. She puts me in my place.”

Pamela recalled how during the second day of tennis tryouts, Gabriella tore all the ligaments in her right ankle. The school’s sports medicine students put a cast on the injury, but she refused to see a doctor and played through the pain.

“She broke her nose a year before that and reset it herself. The doctors at the University of Washington laughed at her,” Pamela said. “They couldn’t believe that this girl had set her nose perfectly.

“… She’s driven, but she’s also kind and generous in her heart. I can’t explain what it has been about with my daughter … “

Auburn City Councilwoman Sue Singer, who has known mother and daughter for years, said Gabriella impresses her with what she has had to overcome.

“Because of her background, she has a keen sense of injustice. I see Gabe going into law working as a judge or lawyer or going into politics. I wrote a letter of recommendation calling her a fantastic investment in our community who could return and be a leader.”

After graduating from Reed, Gabriella hopes to attend law school and run for political office. Her hero is Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, an Auburn native.

Gabriella’s most cherished goal is to help achieve universal health care for children. As she and her mother know from personal experience, the poor can get medical vouchers, but what good are vouchers if doctors refuse to accept them?

“Why would you not want to provide a child with health care,” Quintana asked? “I understand taxes and everything, but why would you not want to provide someone with health care who will grow up to be the future of your nation? I brush my teeth every night and every morning, and I floss and I need two root canals right now, and I can’t afford it. It happens.”

Mountainview High School counselor Karen Brown recalled that in essays in her college applications, Gabriella described how her upbringing connected her to the bus system and put all sorts of compelling people in her path.

“She also spoke of her appreciation for things others more fortunate had no clue about, such as her elation at opening the refrigerator at the beginning of each month and finding choices there,” Brown said.

“I have known her since the third grade,” said Auburn School District Superintendent Linda Cowan. “She has always been told by those around her, myself, her mother and her teachers that she can do and be anything. I think that having people in her life to encourage and support her has made all the difference. Research says all it takes is one caring adult. Her mother, the schools, the community all cared about this girl.”

“… I have been through a lot, but I don’t dwell on it, I learned from it,” Gabriella said. “It sounds so cliché, but it has given me so much awareness about what needs to be fixed and what really goes on. I have more compassion for people, especially low-income people. If I had been raised in a rich household, it wouldn’t be the same. I would not have the same awareness.”

Her mother recalled how at the tender age of 7, Gabriella was thinking big.

“We were going through an ordeal that everybody in town knew about,” Pam said. “One day she looked at me as I was crying and said, ‘Mama, don’t cry. It’s not so bad raising a future world leader.’“