Dominic Bundridge had a hard go of it when he was a kid, and kind hands picked him up.
First, a loving family adopted him and his brother, then social workers did their bit, and finally a school embraced him, helped him find himself.
He has not forgotten.
And after the 18-year-old graduates from West Auburn High School on Saturday, he means to pay the debt forward.
“I want to go and be like a social worker, help youth, so we can all be a great generation,” Bundridge said. “As I see it, if I can help someone become like me, then I’ve done my job.”
As a kid, Bundridge said, he attended Olympic and Rainier middle schools, but when the time came for him to move up, he said, Auburn’s big three high schools were not a good fit for him for many reasons.
It was his adoptive mother, Tonia, Bundridge said, who pushed him to West Auburn after the positive experience an older brother had there. And it worked.
“West Auburn’s like the perfect school: not a lot of people, not a big school,” Bundridge said. “I used to have a lot issues, but now not as much. I used to get angry as a kid, but now I never really get angry. I’m just chill.”
What’s really important to Bundridge, however, is the centrality in his life of family, in all of its good old forms.
There’s his adopted family, composed of parents Curtis and Tonia, his two older brothers and his older sister.
And his family at West Auburn.
“What this school means to me is what a family means to everybody. We all know each other, we all know each other’s struggles, and people here try to help you, whether it’s a teacher or one of your friends, we all help each other,” Bundridge said.
In elementary school, Ashley Brown recalled, she struggled with math and language arts but was otherwise a happy, outgoing kid, involved in a lot of school activities.
But in mid-seventh grade, Brown recalls, and for reasons she still cannot explain, anxiety overtook and crippled her. And with time, it only got worse.
Her parents decided the best thing to do for their daughter would be to home-school her.
Brown did not expect, did not plan to move on to high school. The plan was for her to finish her schooling online.
But as with Bundridge, the positive experience an older sibling had had at West Auburn helped her parents make up their minds, so to West Auburn she went.
At first, it was tough.
“In my freshman and sophomore years here, I was extremely timid, and I did not talk to anyone, students or teachers or counselors,” Brown said. “I didn’t want to be here. I only came here three periods a day during freshman and sophomore years. My attendance was horrible,”
Change, she recalls, was slow in coming. But with the help of teachers like Marcy Anderson and Lauren Crater and counselor Alex Foster, came the dawn of better days.
“They are amazing, they all made things better or me,” she said of the staff at West Auburn. “I’ve always had a hard time in school understanding stuff, and they gave me help in math and language arts. If it wasn’t for the school, and for the teachers and fore the opportunities like studying online when I was running behind, I wouldn’t be graduating. Every school has its issues, but this school is great.
“I think people look at West Auburn as the school people go to when they have issues, or when they are bad kids,” said Brown, 18. “I think they should know they are not bad kids, and it’s not that they are not as good as kids who go to bigger high schools. Also, when they come here, they should not think it’s a free-for-all. There’s structure and greatness here, and they can help.”
Her plan after graduation is to attend cosmetology school.
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