Cheyenne Contreras, 18, graduated Saturday at the top of her Sierra Lutheran High School class, but “valedictorian” wasn’t a title she had necessarily sought.
“I’ve always been a little bit of a perfectionist,” she explained. “I don’t think I was really striving for the role of valedictorian. I was just striving to do my best, pushing myself to be the best student I could be.”
Salutatorian Abby Williams, 18, came to her spot in a roundabout way. As a student at Bethlehem Lutheran School in Carson City, she struggled with her grades. She often turned in assignments late or not at all. In high school, she rededicated herself.
“School just became really important to me,” she said. “I learned what it meant to be successful. I enjoy learning in general and gathering knowledge from people who really want to share what they know.”
The girls led the class of 2013, made up of 17 students. It’s second-largest class to graduate from the private school on the border of Douglas County and Carson City.
“Every class has its own personality,” said Principal Brian Underwood. “One thing unique about this class is they really had a heart for service. When I think about this class, I think about a class that helps others.”
After serving for two years, Underwood will leave at the end of this year to be closer to family in Southern California, where he will take over as principal of Crean Lutheran High School in Irvine. He will be replaced by Rev. Julius Clausen, who will start July 1.
“This is a very special high school,” Underwood said. “We’ve enjoyed our time here, and we feel very blessed to have been here.”
Contreras, who completed her primary schooling at Faith Christian Academy in Gardnerville, chose Sierra Lutheran High School because of its similarity.
“I really wanted to stay in that school system,” she said. “I liked the closeness of that school. I knew it would be the same family atmosphere here.”
She plans to pursue a degree in secondary education from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. She is not sure whether she will teach in a private or public school.
“Wherever the Lord leads, I will be willing to follow,” she said. “You could still be a good Christian example without using your words.”
Williams, who has always had a passion for horses, plans to study equine science at Montana State University with hopes of owning her own ranch that provides equine therapy for people with mental and physical disabilities.
She said the parochial school helped prepare her for her future, giving her confidence that was once stifled by her naturally shy personality.
“It was a great influence on me to have Christian role models in the school,” she said. “Just having that foundation in Christ helped me become who I am today.”
While the girls are eager for the next steps in their lives, they are also reluctant to leave behind the school and friendships formed there.
“I’m just glad we had the class we did,” Contreras said. “Their support system will be carried throughout the rest of my life. I know they will always love me, and I will always love them.”