After graduation from Mariner High School, Aurelio Valdez-Barajas will be headed to Seattle Pacific University to major in history. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

After graduation from Mariner High School, Aurelio Valdez-Barajas will be headed to Seattle Pacific University to major in history. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Aurelio Valdez-Barajas, Mariner High School: SPU bound

The Future is Now

This is one of a series of profiles of noteworthy Snohomish County high school graduates: Aurelio Valdez-Barajas, Mariner (SPU) Arianna Calvin, Kamiak, and Tholen Blasko, Sultan (WSU) • Hayden Davis, Lake Stevens (Harvard) • Peter Faber, Snohomish and Academy NW (US Naval Academy) • Michael Larson, Everett (Gonzaga) • Naomi Lee, Kamiak (UW)

EVERETT — Aurelio Valdez-Barajas is the first high school graduate in his bilingual family — and the first to attend a university.

On school days, his alarm often sounds at 4:45 a.m. He arrives at school by 5:30, a half hour before 6 a.m. “zero period” begins for Mariner High School’s leadership group.

His schedule has been packed with Advanced Placement courses: U.S. history, government and American studies, physics, English and Spanish. He figured the rigorous load would be a stepping stone to getting into a good school. “And I honestly wanted to learn more,” he said. “I had to have the knowledge.”

His principal, Nate DuChesne, describes him as a young man who wants to learn every day.

“He has a pretty supportive family but he’s a pretty determined young man,” DuChesne said. “He’s a gentleman. He treats people with respect.”

Math teacher Kerry Lamus said that Valdez-Barajas listens, even when he disagrees: “That’s really a gift.”

AP physics teacher Jonathan Yelsky describes him as kind, generous, socially conscious, “and a little more mature than most kids his age.”

Valdez-Barajas works with ASB leaders helping organize dances, assemblies and student elections. “There’s days where I stay until 11 at night.”

He convinced taco truck owners to come to the tailgate party for a Mariner boy’s soccer game — resulting in a serpentine line more than 30 feet long.

“It was so successful, they wanted to come again — this time it was inside the stadium,” he said.

His favorite philosopher? He pauses to consider. “If I had to pick one, Plato in terms of beliefs.”

Valdez-Barajas says his motivation comes in part from feeling powerless as a kid, watching his parents work night shifts and seeing his dad juggling three jobs, five days a week.

“I thought, ‘You know what? I’ll become a politician or somebody with power, an organizer, that way I can change people’s lives.’”

The first college acceptance letter he got was from Seattle Pacific University, with an offer of a full tuition scholarship. He plans on pursuing a double major in political science and history.

He said he’s honored that his principal nominated him to be profiled as an outstanding graduate. “I hope I can inspire a lot of people if someone reads this,” he said.

There’s another side to this young man. He takes twice a week a hip-hop classes in Seattle through the organization 206Zulu. It provides the resources, studio time and venues to perform.

And, he said, there was one other benefit: “I just met Macklemore not so long ago.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or

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