Portales High School seniors Morgan Hill and Marina Piña come from diverse backgrounds but both will graduate with honors Friday. Commencement exercises start at 7 p.m. at ENMU’s Greyhound Arena.
Approximately 170 students will graduate from Portales High School and about 10 from Broad Horizons on Friday, but for 80 percent of these students, their education won’t end there.
“We have a high percentage, probably about 80 percent, who say they are going to college, a vocational or two-year school,” said Janette Gerig, a counselor at PHS.
Gerig says those numbers show that higher education is becoming the norm for high school graduates regardless of their background.
PHS students Morgan Hill and Marina Piña come from diverse backgrounds, and yet they are both honor students bound for higher things. Hill, the salutatorian of her class, comes from a family of college graduates, but will be the first from her clan to go into the military. She has been accepted into the prestigious United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where she will play basketball and hopes to become a research doctor in the area of genetics.
As for Piña, she will be a first-generation college student who will attend school closer to home. She plans to attend New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas. Piña plans to earn a degree in broadcast journalism and aspires to become a Spanish broadcast journalist such as noted Univision TV anchor Jorge Ramos. What’s more, Piña, a Mexican immigrant who is on the path to becoming a U.S. citizen, knew no English when she came to the United States from Mexico two years ago. She has not only quickly grasped the language, but has excelled in academics and is a member of the PHS National Honor Society.
Hill never even considered going to the Naval Academy until she unexpectedly got a call from an academy coach one day who asked her to come play basketball.
“I didn’t really know what the Naval Academy was until they sent me a letter last summer and my dad said ‘My God, that’ so prestigious,’” Hill said. “A couple of weeks later, I got a call from the Naval Academy recruiting me to play basketball.”
Hill had attended a basketball tournament last summer. There were close to 300 other teams there and 400 college scouts. “I knew I was being watched, but I didn’t know by who,” Hill said.
While Hill will be moving away further than she thought, she said, “I feel secure about my future and know that whatever God has in store for me, it will be good.” Nevertheless, she is still nervous about being in the military and about going so far from home. “It was a hard decision. I always thought I was going to go to Texas Tech or some place not too far away. I am nervous because I am close to my family.”
Hill’s father, Greg, is a business teacher at Portales High School and she took a class with him. Her mom, Debbie, is a speech pathologist at RM. James Elementary.
Hill said another hard part will be leaving her friends behind, most of whom are going to college nearby. “I’m sad because I know I’m moving far away and I know it will never be the same. At the same time though, I’m also excited about graduating.”
Hill leaves for the Naval Academy’s “boot camp” in June.
As a first-generation college student, Piña has her own anxieties about her future as well. She is a little nervous about going to another town, starting college and making new friends. “When I first came here, I didn’t think I would be able to go to college,” said Piña whose father, Jose, is a farmworker and whose mom, Maria, works at Wagon Wheel restaurant.
Piña was an honor student when she completed 10th grade in Chihuahua, Mexico, and due to her strong desire to learn English, the high marks followed her to Portales.
Her favorite teacher, Eva Armijo, who helped teach her English, said, “Right at the beginning, I knew Marina was a fast learner. I can usually tell students who will excel because they are self-motivators. Marina doesn’t rely on a lot of other people to help her. She is very inquisitive and asks a lot of questions. One thing that I always noticed about Marina is that she would ask something or we would be discussing something, and she’d always ask ‘Why?’ She wants to know the why of everything. She is very inquisitive.”
Besides the challenge of learning a new language, Piña said that adapting to U.S. culture was also a challenge.
“I believe nothing is impossible. If you work hard and try, you can do whatever you want to,” Piña said. “But you should never forget your culture and always be proud.”