“I like looking at them. Whenever I’m having a bad day they make me feel better.”
Talking with Gaither High School senior, Laura Contreras, you can’t imagine her ever having a bad day. She is a bubble of energy, determination and fire.
But even an academic stand-out, who is going to Yale in just a couple months, and has helped lead Gaither’s JROTC to a National Championship, has a bad day.
That’s when she says the quote wall helps.
On a brick wall at Gaither High School are inspirational quotes, traced in black and blue paint. Many students probably pass them every day without a second glance.
Her favorite quote reads: You have the power to change.
Laura’s journey to success is extraordinary, but not without its challenges. She moved to the U.S. from Venezuela with her mother when she was five. They didn’t know a word of English, but Laura learned the language in just 3 months. From there her academics just took off. “I think I have focused so much on education because my mom has always told me that’s something nobody can take away from you. So, if it’s something nobody can take away from you, I might as well do the best that I can with it,” Laura said with her big, bright smile.
Her best is pretty fantastic. Laura has a weighted g.p.a. of 7.6, she has been part of the JROTC all four years at Gaither, she has logged 350 community service hours, she is part of the Honor Circle, and she is this year’s Salutatorian. Which is something that came as a pretty big surprise to her! “I was shocked,” she exclaimed. “My mouth literally dropped. I didn’t think it was me! I didn’t have my glasses on, so I looked around to see if there’s another Laura, and I looked at my principal like, ARE YOU SERIOUS?”
According to Laura, that’s one of the best memories she’ll carry with her from high school. The other is when Gaither won the National Championship for JROTC. Gaither had been to nationals all four years of Laura’s high school career, placing 12th, 7th, 4th and then, finally this year they took the championship. She says it’s the perfect ending to so much hard work.
Next up is graduation. Where she has been chosen by her school to meet the superintendent. “I am so humbled and incredibly honored,” Laura said. “I hope that I represent the Gaither class as well as it should be represented.”
And then, there’s Yale. Laura was accepted by many colleges, including Brown, Dartmouth, Duke, Princeton, Florida, Virginia and Yale.
But there wasn’t a doubt in her mind that Yale was the place for her. In fact, she didn’t even visit any other school! “I only visited Yale,” Laura said with a laugh. “Yeah, I didn’t want to miss too much school and I felt so strongly about Yale that I just had to see it to know 100% it was the place for me.”
So, in a couple short months, Laura will pack up her life and move north, where she will study math. She likes math because it has rules, and is concrete. “I’m hoping with applied math or statistics I can take math and apply it to real life scenarios and find out why different phenomenon exist or how to prevent diseases.”
Whatever Laura Contreras decides to do with her life, there’s no doubt it will be great. As much as she loved high school, her friends, the JROTC, and Gaither’s wall of quotes—her teachers and administrators have prepared her for life.
“I think what I’m looking forward to most about graduation is finishing an era where I’m more of a child. It will be the perfect culmination to everything I’ve done throughout high school. But I think I’m most excited about what it means as far as starting my life at Yale and my future.”