Kelloggsville — Vanesa Valdez doesn’t want people to define her by the loss in her life, but by the way she’s handled it.
Vanesa, a senior, lost her father to COVID-19 in September 2020. She was unable to see him when he passed away, which happened just two days after her 16th birthday.
Shortly after that, she and her siblings moved from Illinois to Grand Rapids.
Then, approximately a month after her father’s passing, her mother died due to what Vanesa says was the stress of losing her husband.
“I can openly talk about it. I don’t sit there and use it as an excuse” to not apply herself in school, Vanesa said of her parents’ passing.
‘Vanesa has been through a lot over the past few years but has found a way through it all to rise to the top and still find success in the classroom.’— Principal Nick Patin
Despite all of this, Vanesa, who is graduating this year from Kelloggsville High School, knows her mom and dad would want her to succeed.
“I still believe my parents would want me to have good grades,” Vanesa said. “I’m on it. I was raised like that. From a young age, (my) parents instilled the importance of finishing high school.”
She said she was motivated to accomplish this to honor them.
“(I surround myself) with people who work hard, and are able to multitask without overwhelming themselves,” Vanesa said.
Staying On Task
Vanesa does her best to keep her mind occupied.
Carrying a 3.7 GPA, she plays marimba in the high school band and is a shift leader at a Biggby Coffee location in Grand Rapids.
On top of all that, she takes care of her younger siblings at home with the help of her adult older sister, Veronica.
Principal Nick Patin called Vanesa the “definition of resilience.”
“Vanesa has been through a lot over the past few years but has found a way through it all to rise to the top and still find success in the classroom,” Patin said. “Having faced such incredible challenges at such a young age, she finds a way to take those challenges and use them as a driving force to continue to move forward, gain her own success, and help others find success along the way.”
‘I can openly talk about it. I don’t sit there and use it as an excuse.’– Vanesa Valdez, Kelloggsville High School senior, on her parents’ deaths
Shannon Dahlquist taught Vanesa in English class last year. Vanesa was able to talk to Dahlquist about what she was going through.
“At the time of her mother’s death, Vanesa pushed herself to be strong for her younger sister, and continues to do so every day by supporting and assisting her in any way she can,” Dahlquist said.
For an assignment to write a memoir, Vanesa wrote in detail about her grief.
“From what I can tell, Vanesa emulates the strength she saw in her parents and pours her love and support into the people around her,” Dahlquist said.
‘Such A Go-getter’
Counselor Malissie Henry has helped Vanesa through tough times when they started talking in September 2021. Henry said she is “in awe” of Vanesa’s success.
“She’s such a go-getter,” Henry said.
Henry checks in weekly with Vanesa to help her process her emotions and the thoughts she experiences during tough times, she said.
“We often find ourselves bonding over other things, which sometimes work as good distractions,” Henry said.
The soon-to-be-graduate is looking forward to the future — she has several open opportunities to attend college at different schools across West Michigan.
For now though, she’s going to enjoy her summer.
“It’s been a long three years,” she said. “(I want to) have a good summer with my family. Live more. Enjoy life more.”
Read more from Kelloggsville:
• Grand opening set to showcase new sports complex
• Pilot LEGO program helps young students learn STEM skills