Sunnyside High School valedictorian Alexia Mendoza has accomplished many things during her high school career. She’s student body president, has raised money for her community and has a handful of college scholarships coming her way. But she’s most proud of her positive outlook on life.
“I’m most proud of just being here and enjoying my life and being at peace,” she said.
Mendoza’s positivity did not come naturally, she said. It’s a skill she learned during high school while juggling family responsibilities, a packed course load, mental health struggles and the irrepressible desire to change the world for the better.
A Sunnyside native, Mendoza is the daughter of two Sunnyside High School graduates. She’s the second of three siblings.
Mendoza’s parents pushed her and her siblings to achieve academically and expected them to pursue higher education, she said. Her parents did not get the privilege of a college education.
With that in mind, Mendoza said she focused heavily on academics. She loved learning new things, and school and good grades came easily.
But her priorities changed when her father had an unexpected health issue during her sophomore year, she said. He needed emergency open-heart surgery.
Mendoza stepped up to the plate to make things easier on her family. She got a job and ran errands. Education took a backseat.
“I think that made me realize how important family is … especially because I — I don’t want to say I took it for granted, but I wasn’t prioritizing family before then,” she said.
When she does find free time, Mendoza enjoys spending it with her family. She said her extended family gets together regularly for barbecues and they have one planned to celebrate her graduation.
Mental health advocate
Mendoza’s full resume includes involvement with student government, science fair club, the Mr. Sunnyside High School planning committee and a club that helps freshmen with their transition to high schoo
She’s been involved with student government since sixth grade, when a teacher noticed she was always the first to raise her hand in class. Once she broke the ice, other students seemed to feel more comfortable speaking up, too. The teacher encouraged her to run for student government.
She had to make a speech in front of her class as part of the campaign, which she said made her nervous. But she got through it and public speaking has gotten easier for her ever since.
Last year, Mendoza addressed the Sunnyside High School faculty in a Zoom meeting about how teachers and staff can impact students’ mental health, said David Martinez, SHS’s director of student life and athletics and ASB adviser. After her talk, teachers messaged her, grateful for the insight.
“It’s so rewarding to see someone like Alexia that uses her voice to bring light to issues such as mental health,” he said.
Mendoza said de-stigmatizing mental health and increasing access to health care are issues she’s passionate about. She has her own struggles with depression and said she’s been on antidepressants throughout high school.
“There shouldn’t be shame around that,” she said.
Having a good support system helped her develop her positive outlook. Martinez provided a listening ear throughout high school whenever she was stressed. And the more people she speaks to, the more she feels grateful for the life she has, she said
“Being able to just enjoy the things that I do rather than … just getting dragged through the day,” she said. “I actually enjoy and look forward to things now.”
This fall, Mendoza will head to the University of Washington. She is not certain what she will major in, but she’s interested in medical laboratory science, archaeology and anthropology. She’s drawn to subjects where there’s always more to learn
She wants to eventually be involved in student leadership but is not going to dive right in. “I want to relax a little bit in college because I’ve done so much in high school,” she said. She said she’s looking forward to meeting new people and putting her interpersonal skills to work. While at UW, Mendoza will be nearly three hours from her family. Leaving will be difficult, she said, especially after she took on so much responsibility at home. “I’m nervous to leave them but I’m excited to see how my family does and I know they’re excited for me to pursue my dreams,” she said. “It’s a bittersweet moment.”