Tag Archives: Khaliq Sanda

Roundup: Slice & Dog Fest, Khaliq Sanda, Gabi Conti …

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A few folks grumble about paying admission to the Slice of Saugatuck or Westport Dog Festival.

Quit bitching. Held this fall after a COVID hiatus, they helped fund donations of more than $10,000 to non-profit organizations. The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce sponsors both events, and announced the grants.

The traditional recipient of the Slice of Saugatuck is Homes with Hope’s Gillespie Food Pantry. This year’s donation of $4,500 brings the grand total since the Slice began to over $30,000. The giant neighborhood food tasting tagline is: “Food for those who can afford it, and food for those who can’t.”

Donations to local non-profits from the Dog Festival total $6,000 this year: $4,000 to co-producer TAILS; $1,000 to the Westport Police Department (split between the K9 unit and Animal Control via Westport Animal Shelter Advocates); $500 to Fidelco Guide Dogs; $250 to the Connecticut Humane Society, and $250 to Adopt-a-Dog.

The Dog Festival returns this spring to its usual date. Slice of Saugatuck will be held right after Labor Day.

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For years, Richelle Evarts has been a familiar, friendly face at Organic Market.

She’s been diagnosed with colon and liver cancer. Her husband William is reaching out for help.

He writes: “After exploring many options, she decided to take an integrated holistic medical path to recovery.

“Unfortunately, insurance doesn’t cover such a path. We found a facility in Mesa, Arizona, with an extensive 6 week-stay.

“I’m reaching out to all who know Richelle and what a beautiful, wonderful and giving person she is, I’m asking you to help us reach our goal for her to live many more healthy and active years. Any donation is greatly appreciated.”

Click here for Richelle’s GoFundMe page. (Hat tip: Sarah Gross)

Richelle Evarts

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Often, the state Department of Transportation works slowly.

This time, they got the job done quickly. And right.

Earlier this month, the Hillspoint Road bridge over I-95 was named for Khaliq Sanda. He’s the smart, energetic, dynamic and popular 2013 Staples High School graduate (and A Better Chance of Westport scholar) who was diagnosed with brain cancer while majoring in pre-med at Duke University. His death in March devastated Westport.

Today, signs went up on the span. They’ll serve as a constant reminder of all that we lost.

(Photo/Ben Joseloff)

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Speaking of bridges: Sunday was UN Day. As always, flags of member nations flew proudly on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

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A few days ago, our “06880” Roundup previewed Todd Suchotliff’s upcoming New York Marathon — which he would run entirely in Westport. A recent arrival in town, he invited his friends (and strangers) to run a bit with him, or cheer along the route.

It happened Sunday. Todd reports:

“It was a great day, made all the better with help from the amazing community here in my new hometown, from start to finish.

“My neighbors came out to cheer me on. Three people from the Joggers Club ran with me — one for the first 20 miles (!), the others to run the last 6.2 home. Plus my family chased me all around Westport, holding up signs and cheering for me.

Thank you fall. And we raised close to $8,500 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, in my mom’s memory.”

Todd Suchotliff and friend.

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In June 2020, I started an “06880” story on Gabi Conti this way:

“The guy who got away. The guy who’s hotter than you. The guy you always go back to. The guy who’s much older. The guy who’s toxic. The guy you can’t remember.

“Gabi Conti knows them all. She’s dated them all.”

The hook was that Gabi — a 2005 Staples High School graduate — had just written a book. Called “20 Guys You Date in Your 20s,” it was a compilation of her greatest hits — and misses.

Gabi is now 34. As of earlier this month, she’s also married.

This past weekend, the New York Times featured her Greens Farms Church wedding. Click here for the whole story.

Spoiler alert: The 31st date was a charm.

Gabi Conti and Daren Johnson (Photo courtesy of Robert Norman Photography)

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The Town Clerk’s office (Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue) will be open this Saturday (October 30, 9 a.m. to noon) to issue absentee ballots for the November 2 election.

Absentee ballots will continue to be available on Monday, November 1, until 4:30 p.m. All ballots must be returned to the Town Clerk’s office no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Questions? Click here; email tclerk@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-1110.

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With all our recent focus on animals, “Westport … Naturally” has neglected a no-brainer: fall foliage.

This wonderful shot is from Gray’s Creek.

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

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And finally … Jay Black, the 2nd “Jay” of Jay and the Americans, died Friday in Queens, of cardiac arrest. He was 82, and suffered from pneumonia and dementia. (Click here for the full obituary.)

The first Jay (Traynor) had a great voice, on songs like “She Cried.” But Jay Black’s baritone made his predecessor sound like a wannabe. Consider these classics:

Hillspoint Road Bridge Honors Khaliq Sanda

In his short life, Khaliq Sanda made a large impression on Westport.

The A Better Chance of Westport scholar had a a magnetic personality, an insightful mind, a welcoming spirit and a heart of gold.

Khaliq took 10 AP classes. He tutored. He worked at Internal Medicine Associates. He volunteered with Key Club, and served on Student Assembly.  

He touched everyone he met.

After graduation in 2013, he headed to Duke University. He took pre-med courses. He wanted to be a psychiatrist.

Khaliq Sanda

In 2016, he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. It metastasized to his brain. He fought valiantly with 5 years — and had the help of countless Westport and Duke admirers.

His death last March devastated our town.

Khaliq won’t be forgotten. The Hillspoint Road bridge over I-95 will be named in his honor.

“Khaliq left an indelible mark on Westport, enriching our town with his kindness, humor and grace,” said State Senator Will Haskell. “Walking through the halls at Staples, it seemed that every student and teacher knew and admired him. In the wake of his passing, I had an opportunity to work with just a few of the many people who loved him to name this bridge in his honor. For those who pass by it each day, I hope it will remind us of his optimism and compassion, bringing out the best of Westport — a town Khaliq loved and a town that loved him.”

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg added, “Khaliq was an outstanding individual who had his future tragically cut short by cancer. During his time in Westport, he made a positive impact on our community. Khaliq was beloved by his peers and excelled in the classroom. He will be sorely missed. Naming a road in Khaliq’s honor will ensure his life and legacy will never be forgotten.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe noted, “He was a talented, deeply compassionate, energetic young man who had a passion for education, community service and a zest for life. It speaks volumes that Khaliq was so highly respected and possessed strong leadership qualities – these are his legacies. Now, he is further recognized with the honor of having this bridge named for him so that his kind heart and good works will be memorialized for generations to come.”

Remembering Khaliq Sanda

The A Better Chance program has brought some remarkable teenagers to Westport. They, in turn, have enriched our town beyond measure.

None is more remarkable than Khaliq Sanda.

Arriving here in the fall of 2010, he immediately made his mark on Staples High School, and the entire community.

Khaliq Sanda

With a magnetic personality, an insightful mind, a welcoming spirit and a heart of gold, he made friends everywhere. Staples students, younger siblings, teachers — all were drawn to Khaliq.

Lori and David Sochol met him when the ABC home on North Avenue was being renovated. They and their neighbors, Laurie and Dave Gendell, each hosted 3 scholars.

The Sochols’ friendship with Khaliq grew stronger as he grew older. They were proud of his successes in the classroom, and the passion with which he got involved in Westport life.

Khaliq took 10 AP classes. He tutored. He worked at Internal Medicine Associates. He volunteered with Key Club, and served on Student Assembly.  

He touched everyone he met.

After graduation he headed to Duke University. He took pre-med courses. He wanted to be a psychiatrist.

In May of 2016, Khaliq was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Quickly, it metastasized to his brain.

The Sochols, and many other Westporters, stepped up to help. They made him comfortable, and ensured he had access to the best treatment at Sloan Kettering,

Following a trip to London and Barcelona with friends hee returned to Duke as a junior, and continued treatments there.

After graduating in 2018, Khaliq got a job and apartment in New York. When COVID hit, he moved in with the Sochols.

Khaliq Sanda at a formal dance, with great friends Roscoe Brown, Emily Korn and Elizabeth Camche.

In November, he lost the use of his legs. David found him an apartment in New York. School friends raised funds for the 2-bedroom place. Aides came during the day. At night, Westport and Duke friends helped.

Some were 3 years older; others, 2 years younger. “Everyone at Duke knew him,” Lori says. “They all said he changed their lives. Some said he saved their lives.”

Khaliq was hospitalized on Thursday. Over 100 friends came through over the weekend, to say goodbye.

This morning, with his family by his side, Khaliq Sanda died.

He leaves a remarkable legacy.

“He saw the best in us — even when we didn’t — and made us want to be better, and do better,” says David Sochol.

“His loving friendship quietly motivated us — again often without us even realizing it — to live up to our ideals and achieve our promise.

“Khaliq defined courage, character and grace. He faced unimaginable adversity with extraordinary humor, patience and strength. He will be missed, but his memory will endure in the actions of all who knew him and loved him.”

A college scholarship fund for Sloan Kettering patients will be set up soon to celebrate his many achievements. Details will be announced on “06880.”

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In 2014, Khaliq spoke at the A Better Chance Gala. 

Khaliq Sanda, speaking at the 2014 A Better Chance Dream Event.

Hundreds of Westporters mingled with ABC House graduates, and were gratified to hear updates on their highly accomplished lives. There were silent and live auctions. The food was excellent.

The highlight of the evening was speeches by graduating seniors. Khaliq Sanda and Ruben Guardado talked about their difficult journeys to, and through, Westport. They graciously thanked all who had helped them so far, and promised to help others who follow them.

Here is part of what Khaliq said:

Almost exactly a decade before I was born, President Reagan stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate and said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” He was speaking literally about the barrier that separated East and West Berlin. I want to talk about metaphorical walls.

When my parents were in their 20s, they emigrated from Cameroon to the United States. Their motivation was the same as most immigrants: they wanted their children to get the kind of education that is unavailable in the country they come from. Their move to a strange and unfamiliar country — through checkpoints and gates and then up and over an invisible wall — was a sacrifice that I think about every day. My parents’ American lives and the fact that I am standing here in front of you today are proof that these walls can be scaled. But climbing over them requires more than just the usual factors, like perseverance, determination, adaptability, hard work, and good luck. It requires, above all, a human ladder to help you vault over the barricade.

Graduating seniors Khaliq Sanda (left) and Ruben Guardado (right) pose with Anthony Soto at the 2014 A Better Chance gala. Anthony — the MC — was the 1st Westport ABC alum to earn a graduate degree.

It was not easy for Khaliq to enter Staples as a freshman. He did not know a single person, but every classmate seemed to know everyone else. “I was on one side of the wall,” he said. “Everyone else was on the other.” He wondered if the next 4 years of his life would be like that.

He found refuge in — “of all places” — Karen Thomas’ geometry class. Her dedication to teaching — and to him — was profound. Khaliq found other “amazing” educators at Staples — Heather Colletti-Houde, Will Jones, Christina Richardson, Suzanne Kammerman, and more — and he flourished.

Other strong arms lifted him up.

My host family, the Mathiases, was indispensable. Kim and Mark, your compassion, care, and willingness to make me a part of your family are the greatest gifts you could have given me. Nick and Nicole, you are the younger brother and sister I always wanted but would have treated really badly if you actually were my younger brother and sister. This way is better: I love you and I like you. If you ever need me, know I’m only a phone call away.

Khaliq Sanda with his host family: Nick, Kim, Mark and Nicole Mathias.

Khaliq Sanda with his A Better Chance host family: Nick, Kim, Mark and Nicole Mathias.

Khaliq also thanked the resident directors at ABC House; his fellow residents; ABC board members and volunteers, who provided a home away from home, rides and much else.

He spoke of his bonds with Michael Newman and the Peer Advisors group. In fact, he said, Michael is the reason he wants to study neuroscience. He thanked Kim Freudigman, for helping him reach his dream of studying at a university he once would never have dreamed of applying to.

Then, the once friendless Khaliq — now one of the most popular students at Staples — said:

If you’re going to climb a really massive, imposing wall, you’re going to need to stand on the shoulders of giants — young giants. There is absolutely no way I would have been able to make it through this program without my best friends and their families. Roscoe Brown, Grant Heller, Cooper Shippee, Jeremy Langham, Austin Nicklas, Joey Schulman, Charlie Leonard, Henri Rizack, Eliza Yass, Annie and Lauren Raifaisen, Elizabeth Colwell, Emily Korn, Elizabeth Camche and Caroline O’Brien — thank you. You have been there for me through thick and thin. When I have needed someone to talk to or share a laugh with, you were my first choice, my early decision. You have been crucial in my life beyond what any of you will ever understand or I could put into words. Without revealing anything that could get us all in trouble, let me just say… I don’t think there’s been a single dull moment.

Without sounding boastful, Khaliq described his life in Westport: 10 AP classes, a job at Internal Medicine of Westport, volunteer work with the Key Club, “advocating for students on Student Assembly, and trying to maintain the façade of a well-rested, happy-go-lucky, not-a-care-in-the-world, totally color-coordinated teenager.”

He concluded by reaching back to his original reference to walls.

When President Reagan asked President Gorbachev to tear down the wall, East Germans and West Germans had been separated for nearly 30 years. You can imagine — I can imagine — what they were thinking: the people on the other side of the wall are not like me. Their lives are not like my life. Their problems are not like my problems.

A Better ChanceThat’s what I thought when I first moved here. From my side of the wall, Westport seemed like a picture-book town. The reality is much more complex. I feel incredibly fortunate to have lived here for 4 years, but I also feel incredibly fortunate to have lived in Queens and Lawrenceville, Georgia, and to have been born into my amazing family. We don’t have a Range Rover in the driveway, but there is always a home-cooked meal on the kitchen table. And our house isn’t 11,000 square feet, but it’s filled with the people I love most in the world, filled with laughter and joy.

My journey these last 4 years is similar to the one my parents took when they were only a little older than I am now: moving to a place unlike your home, starting over with no family or friends to support you, and having to stay strong even when things were rocky. I think my parents would say that every moment of their journey was worth it, and every day, I am amazed by how strong, courageous, caring, and wise my parents are. Mom and Dad, you mean the world to me, I thank you again for having the confidence in me, and I hope I’ve made you proud. I love you guys.

Thank you all for helping me climb over the wall.

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And now, to bring a smile to your face: Here’s a video from 2013. With his usual spirit and zest, Khaliq and good friend Roscoe Brown asked 2 girls to the junior prom:

Dream On: A Better Chance Changes Lives

Five years ago, Michael and Karen Wolfe were invited to A Better Chance of Westport‘s Dream Event.

They knew little about the organization, but were happy to support their friend. Michael expected a typical charity night: a fun cocktail party, silent auction and dinner.

Then the speeches began.

Two seniors were graduating from ABC — the program that brings academically gifted, economically disadvantaged and highly motivated young men of color to Westport. They live in Glendarcy House on North Avenue, attend Staples High School, and take full advantage of the opportunity. But they give back to this community at least as much as they get.

That night, the young men spoke passionately about their 4 years with A Better Chance. Ruben Guardado talked about growing up in the San Diego barrio, and how coming to Westport opened his horizons to new worlds.

Khaliq Sanda spoke directly about overcoming metaphorical walls, and how ABC allowed his parents — immigrants from Cameroon — to fulfill their dreams of providing an excellent education for their son.

Khaliq Sanda, speaking at the 2014 A Better Chance Dream Event.

Ruben was headed to the University of Southern California, Khaliq to Duke. The Wolfes were in awe, hearing how one organization touched and changed two lives, on such profound levels.

Almost immediately, Michael and Karen decided to become more involved. Fortuitously, Diane Johnson sat at their table. She ran the host family committee. (Each ABC scholar is paired with a Westport family, with whom they spend every Sunday and one full weekend a month. The broadening experience often leads to lifelong friendships.)

The Wolfes’ own children — Jacob and Rachel, twins about to enter Staples themselves — were all in.

Over 4 years, they watched Jarod Ferguson blossom from a shy freshman from Philadelphia into a strong, capable young man, now proudly attending the University of Pittsburgh.

Jarod Ferguson (far left) with the Wolfe family.  They had dinner together every Sunday. This was their final get-together, at Compo Beach.

Last year, Michael introduced Jarod at the 2018 Dream Event. He said, “All we did was share our home over the weekend. But Jarod was willing to share his heart, his mind and his dreams with us. For that, we’re eternally grateful to him, his amazing mother Angela, and to A Better Chance of Westport.”

Michael — now ABC’s vice president of fundraising — is getting ready for this year’s Dream Event. It’s set for Saturday, March 30, at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton.

As he learned 5 years ago, it’s far more than a charity fundraiser. It’s a inspiring, remarkable evening. And it can be as life-changing for attendees as ABC has been for the scholars.

Once again, 2 graduating seniors will speak from the heart.

David Li and Darby Aurelien, A Better Chance of Westport’s 2 graduating seniors.

Since joining ABC 4 years ago from Queens, David Li has been active in basketball, rugby and track. He excels in art, which ABC helped facilitate.

David says:

ABC has been very helpful in my growth and development as a person. Not only have I been able to mature and better myself, but I had the opportunity to continue to pursue my interests and further my creativity.

Since sophomore year I have taken art lessons with Roe Halper. She has helped me immensely, guiding me to perfect my craft and exposing me to new styles and techniques. I am very grateful for everything that ABC and the Westport community have offered me.

“Woman,” an ink drawing by David Li.

It’s hard enough for most ABC scholars to leave their homes in 9th grade — but at least they start as new freshmen with their peers. Darby Aurelien made the transition from Teaneck, New Jersey as a sophomore.

But he too has thrived. Staples fostered his passion for music and public service. Last year Darby traveled to the Dominican Republic with Builders Beyond Borders, where he helped build classrooms. Next month, he heads to Guatemala.

He says:

My time in ABC has been filled with action-packed and memorable experiences. What was once a yearning attempt to just attend a new high school has turned into amicable relationships, wholehearted support, and a growing maturity.

The ABC program provides lots of opportunities to volunteer and give back. With B3 I bond with other students, learn to immerse myself in a community culture, and adapt to living conditions. It is a delight to see what we accomplished as a team to better the lives of others — as A Better Chance of Westport has done for me.

Every year Westporters head to their first Dream Event, expecting just another charity fundraiser.

Like Michael and Karen Wolfe, they never dream of the impact it will make not only on the very special scholars’ lives — but on their own.

(A Better Chance of Westport’s Dream Event is set for Saturday, March 30 at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton. For more information and tickets, click here.)

Khaliq Sanda Thanks Westport; We Should Thank Him

Saturday night’s A Better Chance gala was — as it always is — one of the most emotional, warm and beneficial (as in fund-raising) nights of the year.

Hundreds of Westporters mingled with ABC House graduates, and were gratified to hear updates on their highly accomplished lives. There were silent and live auctions. The food was excellent.

Khaliq Sanda, speaking at Saturday's A Better Chance gala.

Khaliq Sanda, speaking at Saturday’s A Better Chance gala.

But the highlight of the evening — as it always is — was a pair of speeches by current Staples seniors. Khaliq Sanda and Ruben Guardado talked about their difficult journeys to, and through, Westport. They graciously thanked all who had helped them so far, and promised to help others who follow them.

They spoke humbly, with honesty, insight and power. They stood tall and proud. They awed us. For all they have given us, we are profoundly grateful.

Here is part of what Khaliq said:

Almost exactly a decade before I was born, President Reagan stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate and said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” He was speaking literally about the barrier that separated East and West Berlin. I want to talk about metaphorical walls.

When my parents were in their 20s, they emigrated from Cameroon to the United States. Their motivation was the same as most immigrants: they wanted their children to get the kind of education that is unavailable in the country they come from. Their move to a strange and unfamiliar country — through checkpoints and gates and then up and over an invisible wall — was a sacrifice that I think about every day. My parents’ American lives and the fact that I am standing here in front of you today are proof that these walls can be scaled. But climbing over them requires more than just the usual factors, like perseverance, determination, adaptability, hard work, and good luck. It requires, above all, a human ladder to help you vault over the barricade.

It was not easy for Khaliq to enter Staples as a freshman. He did not know a single person, but every classmate seemed to know everyone else. “I was on one side of the wall,” he said. “Everyone else was on the other.” He wondered if the next 4 years of his life would be like that.

He found refuge in — “of all places” — Karen Thomas’ geometry class. Her dedication to teaching — and to him — was profound. Khaliq found other “amazing” educators at Staples — Heather Colletti-Houde, Will Jones, Christina Richardson, Suzanne Kammerman, and more — and he flourished.

Other strong arms lifted him up.

My host family, the Mathiases, was indispensable. Kim and Mark, your compassion, care, and willingness to make me a part of your family are the greatest gifts you could have given me. Nick and Nicole, you are the younger brother and sister I always wanted but would have treated really badly if you actually were my younger brother and sister. This way is better: I love you and I like you. If you ever need me, know I’m only a phone call away.

Khaliq Sanda with his host family: Nick, Kim, Mark and Nicole Mathias.

Khaliq Sanda with his host family: Nick, Kim, Mark and Nicole Mathias.

Khaliq also thanked the resident directors at ABC House; his fellow residents; ABC board members and volunteers, who provided a home away from home, rides and much else.

He spoke of his bonds with Michael Newman and the Peer Advisors group. In fact, he said, Michael is the reason he wants to study neuroscience. He thanked Kim Freudigman, for helping him reach his dream of studying at a university he once would never have dreamed of applying to.

Then, the once friendless Khaliq — now one of the most popular students at Staples — said:

If you’re going to climb a really massive, imposing wall, you’re going to need to stand on the shoulders of giants — young giants. There is absolutely no way I would have been able to make it through this program without my best friends and their families. Roscoe Brown, Grant Heller, Cooper Shippee, Jeremy Langham, Austin Nicklas, Joey Schulman, Charlie Leonard, Henri Rizack, Eliza Yass, Annie and Lauren Raifaisen, Elizabeth Colwell, Emily Korn, Elizabeth Camche and Caroline O’Brien — thank you. You have been there for me through thick and thin. When I have needed someone to talk to or share a laugh with, you were my first choice, my early decision. You have been crucial in my life beyond what any of you will ever understand or I could put into words. Without revealing anything that could get us all in trouble, let me just say… I don’t think there’s been a single dull moment.

Khaliq Sanda at a formal dance, with great friends Roscoe Brown, Emily Korn and Elizabeth Camche.

Khaliq Sanda at a formal dance, with great friends Roscoe Brown, Emily Korn and Elizabeth Camche.

Without sounding boastful, Khaliq described his life in Westport: 10 AP classes, a job at Internal Medicine of Westport, volunteer work with the Key Club, “advocating for students on Student Assembly, and trying to maintain the façade of a well-rested, happy-go-lucky, not-a-care-in-the-world, totally color-coordinated teenager.”

He concluded by reaching back to his original reference to walls.

When President Reagan asked President Gorbachev to tear down the wall, East Germans and West Germans had been separated for nearly 30 years. You can imagine — I can imagine — what they were thinking: the people on the other side of the wall are not like me. Their lives are not like my life. Their problems are not like my problems.

A Better ChanceThat’s what I thought when I first moved here. From my side of the wall, Westport seemed like a picture-book town. The reality is much more complex. I feel incredibly fortunate to have lived here for 4 years, but I also feel incredibly fortunate to have lived in Queens and Lawrenceville, Georgia, and to have been born into my amazing family. We don’t have a Range Rover in the driveway, but there is always a home-cooked meal on the kitchen table. And our house isn’t 11,000 square feet, but it’s filled with the people I love most in the world, filled with laughter and joy.

My journey these last 4 years is similar to the one my parents took when they were only a little older than I am now: moving to a place unlike your home, starting over with no family or friends to support you, and having to stay strong even when things were rocky. I think my parents would say that every moment of their journey was worth it, and every day, I am amazed by how strong, courageous, caring, and wise my parents are. Mom and Dad, you mean the world to me, I thank you again for having the confidence in me, and I hope I’ve made you proud. I love you guys.

Thank you all for helping me climb over the wall.

Stay tuned for Ruben Guardado’s speech.

 

 

 

Will You Go To The Prom With Me?

On Saturday, juniors Khaliq Sanda and Roscoe Brown found a new way to ask girls to the prom.

Presumably they’ll drive — not fly — to the dance next month.

(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.)