Rocio Sanchez-Salcido can remember attending her older sister’s high school graduation when she was 10 years old. The speeches from the valedictorian and salutatorian inspired her to want to become the valedictorian for her own graduating class at Marana High—and this year, she achieved that goal.
“Right there I set it as one of my goals. I’ve just always wanted to be the best, as weird as that might sound,” Sanchez-Salcido said. “That was a position I saw myself being able to achieve. So I started working really hard. But because of the pandemic, my last semester was really challenging and different compared to the last three years. So when I found out I got it, I was so excited. It felt like all my hard work paid off.”
Sanchez-Salcido told her family of her goal, and they supported her all throughout high school. During her freshman year, her report card indicated she was third in her class, and she knew she could push herself to achieve No. 1. But she admits there were times her family was concerned for her because of all the academic responsibilities she was juggling.
“I’ve always wanted to be challenged, and that really cultivated a sense of pushing my limits of how much I can learn, which is really important to have if you’re doing something like this,” Sanchez-Salcido said. “I spent so many nights staying up until 3 in the morning, just making sure all my projects were done and studying for big tests.”
Sanchez-Salcido set goals and routines to be able to become valedictorian, including taking Advanced Placement classes. However, this was complicated during COVID, when at-home schooling made it harder to focus. To stay on track, she used planners, timers, and alarms ahead of every video call.
“You’re at home all the time, and you associate your home and your room with relaxing, or at least not with school. So it definitely took some time to build the association that you’re at home but still have to do that work,” Sanchez-Salcido said. “But after a while of not seeing anyone, you start to feel the effects of the loneliness and isolation. There were definitely some bumps in the road where it didn’t even feel like school. But once it went back to hybrid and having the opportunity to come back to school, it helped and made it feel more like school.”
Beyond the bookwork, Sanchez-Salcido served as class president of the student council, participated in Marana High School’s Mu Alpha Theta math competition club and worked on the prom committee.
“I don’t even know how I did it now, going to school all day, and then at 5 p.m. going to school again to work until 11,” Sanchez-Salcido.
She also recently achieved another major goal: On her birthday, she found out she was accepted to Stanford University, which she acknowledges was a pretty awesome birthday present. Her extracurricular balance of math and student council is reflected in her choice of college study: a major in mathematics, and possibly a minor in political science.
“The amazing teachers at Marana really helped me find and cultivate a love for math,” Sanchez-Salcido said. “And I took AP Gov this year, and learning about how the government functions and all the stats that go into voting, and how our system works is so intriguing to me… I want to use what I love about math to help people or give people information.”
Though her time at the graduation podium is a long time coming, Sanchez-Salcido is still planning out her graduation speech. She says she wants to focus on her motto of “have the audacity to believe in yourself.”
“There are so many people who try to limit what you can do. I’ve been told so many times that my dreams are unattainable, or that what I’m doing is too hard,” Sanchez-Salcido said. “You have to not let what people think blind you from what you have to do. I’ve found people are scared of someone who is confident in themselves. So my mentality has always been to rely on yourself. If you can’t have that confidence in yourself, how can you have it in other people? I just want to encourage people and congratulate them, and make them feel that what they did was worth it all these years. I know how hard this year has been for all these people, but they did it.”