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Carlsbad, Sage Creek grads reflect on high school journey

Above: Eliel Rios Leon, left, of Carlsbad High School and Alexis Petty of Sage Creek High School took different paths, but graduated this week and will attend college in the fall. Photo by Steve Puterski

CARLSBAD — This week hundreds of the students walked down the halls of Carlsbad and Sage Creek high schools for the final time.

The 2019 graduates are moving on to the next stage of life, whether it’s college or entering the workforce, the students are transitioning into adulthood.

Eliel Rios Leon of Carlsbad High and Alexis Petty of Sage Creek had much different paths as they now prepare for life in college.

“Eliel is a phenomenal student and young man who has taken advantage of so many opportunities and will only continue to find success as he leaves Carlsbad High School,” said Carlsbad High Principal Bryan Brockett.

“It has been such a pleasure to work with Alexis these past few years and get to know her through the Student Superintendent Advisory Council and as a CUSD Champion,” said Rosemary Eshelman, student services specialist for the Carlsbad Unified School District. “Alexis works hard, includes others, helps others and still makes time to include her extracurriculars and studies. I look forward to what the future brings for her.”

Leon, 18, is heading to the University of California, Berkeley, but the road was a challenge. Burdened by financial hardships as a youth, Leon found his path through the Carlsbad Unified School District’s Advancement Via Individuals Determination (AVID) program to become the first in his family to attend college.

AVID is also a national nonprofit assisting teachers to help students thrive. After four years, Leon is at a place he never thought possible prior to AVID.

“It gave me the idea that there’s something after high school, which I never really thought of,” Leon said. “They gave me the idea of applying to college. Because no one in my family had gone to college, I didn’t know what it took to get to college.”

Leon has gravitated toward math and engineering, saying he will begin as an applied math major and perhaps transfer into engineering or earn a master’s degree in the subject.

Leon fought through difficult financial restraints and also helps raise and tutor his two younger sisters, 9 and 5. But he has also become more confident through AVID.

He ran track for four years, and team captain for three, and put up a 4.5 cumulative GPA earning some financial aid at Berkeley, although he is up for a scholarship covering tuition for four years, which is pending.

Another moving aspect of AVID, Leon said, was presenting at a Hi-Noon Rotary event, where he was able to connect with civic leaders and meet others with similar backgrounds.

“It’s possible to become somebody well known and successful even though they faced hardships,” he added. “My mom uses me as an example. My sisters don’t like schoolwork. Even though you don’t like, it pays off. This little step now is going to pay off in the future.”

Petty’s path was different, not filled with as much financial constraint. Her obstacle was motivation, saying she did not apply herself fully her first two years of high school.

Her final two years of school, though, saw a massive shift in motivation and work ethic. Petty, 18, went all in as she joined, and is president, of the American Sign Language Honor Society and theater club, ran four years of cross country, helping the girls team win this year’s Division II state championship, three years of track, is a youth development professional with the Boys & Girls Club of Carlsbad’s Bressi Ranch clubhouse and member of the Link Crew, a mentor program guiding freshmen through their first year of high school.

She is also heavily involved with the Carlsbad Unified School District, serving as one of three student representatives on the board of trustees, CUSD Champion and the superintendent student advisory council.

Sage Creek also requires a genius project for every senior. Petty started with developing mental strength training for the cross-country team.

However, she had to pivot and became the student liaison for the Festival of the Arts. She also took on the lead communications representative.

“My original project, the whole gist was never quit, never give up … and I quit,” Petty recalled. “I started over again with a project I realized I loved a whole lot more than my last one. My whole takeaway was you have to fail.”

In the fall, she will attend the University of Arizona, which she picked at the last minute over several California schools. She plans to major in political science with a minor in theater with plans to be a lawyer.

“After my first two years of not doing so well … I wanted to make it worthwhile,” Petty said.