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Camarillo graduates reflect on past, look forward to bright futures

Girl is smiling.
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Megan McKnelly’s calendar is packed with appointments. She attends meetings for the American Cancer Society Club, practices with the mock trial team and participates in events for the KIWIN’S club.

Somehow she finds time to study. Megan, 18, will graduate from Adolfo Camarillo High School today with a 4.74 grade-point average. Her high school career is highlighted by academic accomplishments and community service awards.

Megan said her extracurricular activities kept her busy, and she enjoyed volunteering with her friends and learning about various causes.

“I tell my peers not to join a bunch of clubs just because you want to put them on your college resume,” Megan said. “Join them because you’re passionate about the cause.”

Megan is involved in the high school’s American Cancer Society Club and served as the group’s publicity chair for three years because she wants a career in medicine.

Megan, daughter of Tom and Gemma McKnelly, will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston to pursue a degree in neuroscience.

Megan, one of Camarillo High’s 10 valedictorians, joined mock trial to overcome a fear of public speaking.

The Advanced Placement scholar said her mom, a substitute teacher, encourages her to try new things and be a lifelong learner.

Megan said her greatest high school memories include volunteer work and group projects with her friends.

Betty Stearns will honor her father this fall and attend the University of Southern California to study aerospace engineering.Betty’s father, Ronald Stearns, died last June when he was 74 years old. He graduated from USC in 1968.

Betty, 18, said it was especially hard to lose her dad because her mom, Ueamporn Stearns, died of breast cancer when Betty was 5.

“My dad has been my biggest inspiration,” Betty said. “He raised me in a very hands-on manner but also helped me become an independent, strong person.”

Kelly and Tod Deardorff, family friends, invited Betty to live with them and their three daughters so Betty could finish high school in Camarillo.

Despite losing both parents, Betty excelled academically.

She is part of the California Scholarship Federation and the National Honor Society, and she will graduate with a 4.61 grade-point average.

Betty said she is interested in aeronautical defense and foreign policy, two subjects her father knew well because he had a career in the U.S. Air Force.

“I see myself as a successful engineer either with a government agency or another aerospace company,” Betty said.

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The Noontime Optimist scholar also wants to start a nonprofit. She has a passion for volunteer work and participated in the American Cancer Society Club and the KIWIN’S club, a youth community service program associated with Key Club International.

Betty was the KIWIN’S first regional district member to serve as a trustee on the club’s international board.

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Andrea Holmes felt like she was drowning as a high school student—until she began to compete in water polo, the sport she said helped her keep her head above water.

Sexually abused as a child, the 19-year-old said the abuse left her feeling emotionally stunted, leading her to find solace in prescription drugs.

Gregory Poppen, a water polo coach at Calabasas High School, which she attended for her freshman through junior years, challenged Andrea to try out for the team. Water polo became a healthy outlet for her emotional frustration, Andrea said, and helped her heal.

“That was my first encounter with someone that really cared,” Andrea said. “I think he saw that I was really hurting inside and I was trying to fit in somewhere.”

Andrea played her first game in her sophomore year and said she loved the sport.

“I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had a lot of built up anger, and swimming allowed me to release that,” Andrea said.

She played water polo throughout high school and was awarded most valuable defensive player her sophomore year.

She became team captain her junior year.

Due to an unstable home life in Calabasas, Andrea moved to Camarillo with her boyfriend and his family and transferred to Camarillo High in October. She made honor roll her first semester.

Andrea said she would like to counsel children whose parents have abused drugs.

“I had to grow up really fast, and I want to be that person that says, ‘I did it, you can do it, too,’” Andrea said.

She plans to become a paramedic or an emergency medical technician.

Alexis Torres faced a choice his sophomore year—participate in gang life or focus on school.

The 17-year-old Camarillo resident decided to work on his grades, a big change from the days he spent partying and hanging out with a local gang.

“I was nothing but trouble my freshman year,” Alexis said. “My friends made bad choices, and I didn’t want to go down a bad path and be like one of them.”

Alexis said he was tired of watching his friends, who were members of rival gangs, fight with one another. He enrolled in summer school and spent several months adjusting to a larger workload.

“I was used to not doing homework or studying, so it was tough,” Alexis said.

The son of Teo and Blanca Torres, Alexis said many of his friends dropped out of school or transferred. He said some of his friends accepted his decision to dissociate himself from the gang, and he keeps in touch with a few of them.

“I just didn’t want to be part of it anymore,” Alexis said. “I didn’t want to upset my parents. I just wanted to make them happy.”

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Alexis will graduate from high school today and has plans to move to Rancho Cucamonga to attend the mechanic training school Universal Technical Institute. He wants to become an auto mechanic, a career inspired by his father, who works at an auto shop.

Alexis hopes to earn a business degree and open his own shop.

Denise Naude never let a disability stop her from accomplishing her goals.The 17-year-old had a stroke the night she was born, causing physical and mental disabilities.

Denise said she learned at a slower pace and had to work 10 times harder than her classmates.

“I was constantly playing catch-up, and I think that’s where my drive for school came from,” Denise said.

The teen worked diligently and succeeded academically. She will graduate with a 4.23 gradepoint average and plans to attend Cornell University, an Ivy League school in New York.

The valedictorian participated in the National Honor Society and California Scholarship Federation. She is the president of Camarillo High’s recycling club.

Denise wants to attend medical school, a career inspired by her experiences as a child spending time in hospitals.

“I realized these doctors changed my life, and I want to be like them,” Denise said.

She has lived on multiple continents and said she is eager to move to the East Coast.

She was born in South Africa and moved to America to start school. Denise lived with her parents and two sisters in Camarillo until the family moved to Slovakia in 2007 because her father was promoted.

The family stayed in Slovakia for a year and returned to Camarillo in 2008.

“I’m leaving again to a new place, but I’m excited for a fresh start,” Denise said.

The pre-med student wants to become a surgeon and join the international medical relief charity Doctors Without Borders.
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