Temecula Valley students honored in February

Recipients of the Temecula Valley Student of the Month award for February. From left, Grace Gonzales, Megan K. Thamer, Diego Regalado, Alexis Ritenour, Kendall Kelledy, Collin Crilly and Annie Hu. Valley News/John P. Hess photo

The Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce Student of the Month program, recognizing and inspiring academic excellence since 1993, held its most recent recognition breakfast on Feb. 9 at the Murrieta Sizzler restaurant, 40489 Murrieta Hot Springs Rd. Sally Myers, founder of the nonprofit program, welcomed everyone and shared the mission of the local high school recognition program which sets the criteria for the incredible students who are chosen.

She said college or trade school bound seniors are honored for their character, their love of learning and their willingness to participate in numerous activities such as campus events, athletics and community service as well as how they have persevered through challenging life circumstances. They accomplish all this in a setting that honors God, country, community, family and free enterprise.

Backpacks filled with gifts, certificates of recognition and much more were donated by the program’s sponsors to the award recipients. Each student was invited to the podium to share their personal story, past challenges and future goals with a room full of supporters that included principals, teachers, peers and family members, as well as community and school district dignitaries.

February’s students of the month are Chaparral High School’s Collin Crilly, Great Oak’s Annie Hu, Linfield Christian’s Grace Gonzales, Rancho Vista’s Diego Regalado, Saint Jeanne De Lestonnac’s Kendall Kelledy, Susan H. Nelson’s Alexis Ritenour and Temecula Valley High School’s Megan K. Thamer.

Collin Crilly

Chaparral High School Assistant Principal Lloyd Dunn introduced Collin as an awesome role model on campus who has excelled on the boys’ water polo and swim teams. Collin said the pandemic posed a challenge for him because he was not used to being cooped up for months at a time. “But it made me choose between baseball, a sport I grew up playing, and water polo,” he said. Collin has earned his Eagle Scout ranking, is a member of the National Honor Society and has kept the girls’ water polo team stats for the past three years. He also had a life-altering experience last May shortly before one of his meets where he had to put into play all his Boy Scout skills as well as his lifeguard training when a woman nearby had a medical emergency. “Without hesitation, I ran over and began life-saving measures. This is a story and moment I will keep with me for the rest of my life and it taught me a very important lesson – when you or someone else is caught in a trial, the best thing to do is to rely on the things you’ve learned and use them to get where you want to go or help someone in need.” He plans to attend college in Utah where he will study mechanical engineering and then aerospace engineering. His nominating counselor, Tina May, described Collin as “our hometown hero.”

Annie Hu

Great Oak High School Assistant Principal Amber Lane recalls meeting Annie as a competitive mathlete and describes her as a fierce mathematician who is also a classically trained clarinetist. She is part of the school’s drumline and has been involved with many research projects before transferring to Great Oak in her junior year. Annie said one of the main aspects of research that appeals to her is the fact that there is no complete certainty. “Every endeavor becomes a journey of grappling in the dark,” she said. “You could go one direction and fail and have to retrace your steps. And the process may be exhausting but the light at the end of the tunnel is what makes research worthwhile and even enjoyable.” Annie said it took her awhile to realize that grappling in the dark is not just a scenario that plays out on paper but can happen in real life as well. “When I first transferred to Great Oak, I didn’t know a quick formula to get back on my feet but I immersed myself immediately in the school’s community and clubs and realized, like in research, sometimes things fall into place,” she said, adding that what matters is to try new things, trust the process of learning and readjusting, if and when it’s needed. “I’ve come to appreciate diverse intelligences; everyone has a trait, a talent or a passion that I can learn from and I’m grateful for the many times I’ve been humbled to realize this.”

Grace Gonzales

The entire faculty at Linfield Christian School has a voice in choosing the Student of the Month and for February it was Grace, who has plans to attend medical school and become a surgeon. Grace said she had a hard time overcoming anxiety she felt while participating in band, especially if she had to perform a solo as a first-chair flautist. She said playing the flute has been her greatest passion and her greatest fear so it was not easy for her to play publicly. “What I learned is to never give up,” Grace said. During a Christmas concert, she prayed to the Lord to help her with her performance and said it turned out to be the best one she has ever done. “I’ve never forgotten what God taught me through this challenge: to never give into my fears, and I can confidently say this has inspired me. Trust in the Lord and persevere under pressure.”

Diego Regalado

Diego started as a senior at Rancho Vista High School, an alternative learning environment that is part of the Joan Sparkman Educational Campus. He excels at soccer and his academics improved greatly since transferring to Rancho Vista. “The biggest lesson I’ve learned and will take with me to college is that the only person that can make me put in the work to get what I want is me. I’m the one who is to decide if it’s now or never and I’ve decided that it’s now.” He plans to attend college in North Carolina where he will be a goalkeeper on the school’s soccer team while studying horticulture, the art or practice of garden cultivation and management and botany, the scientific study of plants to further his knowledge about the earth.

Kendall Kelledy

Kendall has been a three-sport athlete and is the current ASB president at Saint Jeanne De Lestonnac High School. She rides horses competitively and plans to study equine veterinary and potentially equine sports medicine when she goes to college. “A significant life lesson I’ve learned at St. Jeanne’s is how to set goals and how to put in the hard work to get what you want. The school’s president, Sister Ernestine Velarde, said she is proud of all the high school students at St. Jeanne’s who have adapted to creative learning spaces since the nearly 30-year-old campus has only had a high school component for the past four years or so. A new building is expected to be completed in August but students such as Kendall have had to work with the existing campus which did not offer them traditional classrooms and other buildings to exclusively serve the high school population. Flexibility was key to their success.

Alexis Ritenour

Susan H. Nelson High School, also part of the Joan Sparkman Educational Campus, chose Alexis due to her outstanding academics. Principal David Schlottman said Alexis carries the highest GPA in the entire school. The musical artist plays the guitar and wants to be a singer/songwriter. A challenge she had to overcome was the depression she suffered after the sudden death of her father in the summer of her sophomore year. “I never intended on switching to Susan Nelson; I always planned to continue at Temecula Valley and graduate alongside my twin sister,” Alexis said. But losing her father absolutely rocked her world. “My whole life, goals, plans and future 180ed and I had no idea what I was going to do with myself,” she said. The once straight-A student said she could not continue attending a traditional high school due to her severe depression. She said switching to Susan H. Nelson was the best decision she could have made and it allowed her to start finding comfort through music. “From all this, I’ve learned that even when the unimaginable happens and life punches you right in the face, you will always find a way to get through and adapt to your situation.” She hopes to create music that helps people who are just like her get through similar situations as she pursues a degree in music and an eventual career in the music industry.

Megan K. Thamer

Temecula Valley High School Principal Donna Lione said Megan has a 4.5 GPA and is a four-year member of the Air Force JROTC program, holding several leadership roles. Her first choice for college is the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis where she plans to study aerospace engineering. Megan’s end goal is to be commissioned as a Marine aviator in either fighter jets or following in the footsteps of her grandfather and flying helicopters. She is also a four-year member of varsity girls’ cross country and has already completed eight half marathons. Megan said she was able to go from being introverted to being the involved person she wanted to be by getting involved in JROTC. She quoted American writer William Arthur Ward: “We can choose to throw stones, to stumble on them, to climb over them, or to build with them.” Lt.Col. Michael P. Good, who nominated Megan, said she has stepped up to numerous challenges and has already received the J-100 AFJROTC Character-in-Leadership Scholarship, which provides cadets with a four-year full ride scholarship.

For more information, please contact Program Chair Amber Poncy at 951-676-5090 or http://temecula.org/student-of-the-month.

Diane A. Rhodes