Griselda Guevara-Cruz was spending time this week with two of her nine siblings, 10-year-old Jayleen (right) and Melvin, 12, before her departure Friday from Everett to Washington, D.C. A graduate of Mariner High School, Whitman College, and the University of Texas, Guevara-Cruz, 27, has been accepted for a year-long graduate fellowship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. (Dan Bates/The Herald)

Griselda Guevara-Cruz was spending time this week with two of her nine siblings, 10-year-old Jayleen (right) and Melvin, 12, before her departure Friday from Everett to Washington, D.C. A graduate of Mariner High School, Whitman College, and the University of Texas, Guevara-Cruz, 27, has been accepted for a year-long graduate fellowship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. (Dan Bates/The Herald)

Mariner grad vows to use D.C. fellowship to help next generation

Griselda Guevara-Cruz once felt lost in school. She didn’t speak English. She didn’t speak Spanish. She didn’t see the value of education.

“I was so anxious. My mom would walk me to the bus, and it seemed so long before I’d get to go home. For awhile, I was one of those lost kids,” the 27-year-old Everett woman said.

Her early childhood in the Yakima Valley, where her parents were migrant farm workers, is now a distant memory. Yet Guevara-Cruz, a 2007 Mariner High School graduate, can’t forget her school struggles, nor those of today’s Latino students.

One of 10 siblings, the daughter of Mateo Guevara and Petra Cruz now has a bachelor’s degree from Whitman College and a master’s from the University of Texas. Her graduate degree is in Mexican-American studies, with an emphasis on education. Her next step will be about helping the next generation.

On Friday, she’ll leave Everett for a year-long graduate fellowship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. The nonprofit educational organization works to support high school and college completion and provide leadership opportunities among Latinos. One of fewer than 20 chosen for the program this year, she was selected from more than 500 applicants. She’ll be the institute’s 2016-17 secondary education graduate fellow.

“It was really instilled in me from my family to pay it forward,” Guevara-Cruz said. “What drives me has always been seeing all the sacrifices my parents have made.”

Her parents are indigenous people from Oaxaca in Mexico. “My primary language is Mixteco,” she said. Guevara-Cruz said her early difficulty in school stemmed from the fact that her native tongue, an indigenous language, is neither Spanish nor English. She learned to speak English well after the family moved to Everett when she was 9.

Guevara-Cruz hopes to return to this area to work with students, perhaps in the Mukilteo School District. Before going to Mariner, she attended the district’s Horizon Elementary School and Explorer and Voyager middle schools.

She credits her academic success to teachers who noticed her abilities and encouraged her to set her sights on college. At Voyager, teacher Shelley McCune Henton pushed her to tackle high school algebra in eighth grade.

Susan Davis, once a math teacher at Mariner, and English teacher Jeff Ferderer were helpful in high school, where Guevara-Cruz took a MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement) class. It was Davis who looked at her transcript and asked what she was doing after high school. Her answer was, “I’m going to work.”

Instead, she was helped to attend Whitman College with a College Success Foundation scholarship — $40,000 over four years — funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Whitman matched the $10,000 per year, said Guevara-Cruz, a first-generation high school and college graduate. While at Whitman, she worked as a translator in the Walla Walla County juvenile justice system.

Before graduate school in Texas, Guevara-Cruz had an AmeriCorps position as a college and career coach at a middle school in the Highline School District and at Seattle’s Garfield High School. Her aim was preventing kids from dropping out, a critical issue among low-income and minority students. “I worked with young men of color, African-American and Latino boys,” she said.

She sees similar needs in Snohomish County. “I’m always super aware of things that happen in south Everett, and how situations come about,” she said.

In Washington, D.C., Guevara-Cruz expects to work with one of two Texas congressmen, Rep. Ruben Hinojosa or Rep. Joaquin Castro, both Democrats involved in education issues.

Work with educational think tanks may also be part of her fellowship. Already, Guevara-Cruz said, she has been offered a job with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Migrant Education. Being in Washington, D.C., will bring “some pretty amazing connections,” she said.

Whether here or in Washington, D.C., she can’t escape the harsh rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign, especially as it targets people from Mexico. Guevara-Cruz said she has spent the summer encouraging people who are qualified to vote to do so. “We can take something negative and turn it into something positive by voting,” she said.

On Tuesday, she was accompanied at our interview by two younger siblings. Melvin Guevara-Cruz, 12, is a student at Voyager, while Jayleen, 10, is a fifth-grader at Discovery Elementary.

“I try to be a good role model for my siblings,” she said. “I want to tell kids, ‘I walked in your shoes.’ ”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, established as a nonprofit educational organization in the late 1970s, works to support high school and college completion among Latinos, and provides leadership opportunities. Learn more at: http://chci.org/

Talk to us

More in Local News

The Pacific Ice rink under construction at Port of Everett on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Port of Everett unveils seasonal ice rink on the waterfront

The outdoor rink will be open through the end of January. The port plans for it to return annually.

A man died after he was found with gunshot wounds Saturday in downtown Everett. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Man dead after shooting in downtown Everett

The man, believed to be in his 40s, was found near California Street and Rockefeller Avenue.

Rear Adm. Christopher Sweeney, commander of Puget Sound-based Carrier Strike Group 11, in Bremerton on Nov. 23, 2021. (U.S. Navy/MC3 Justin McTaggart)
From Everett, this rear admiral commands a Navy strike group

Christopher Sweeney leads Carrier Strike Group 11, a force of aircraft and ships stretching from here to San Diego.

Charges: Everett ID thief tried to buy wheels, speakers, more

The man, 33, was charged this week with 10 counts of identity theft in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Resident escapes burning trailer near Gold Bar

Nobody was injured in the fire Saturday, but the home was destroyed.

A woman walks a dog in downtown Snohomish on Oct. 22. (Sue Misao / The Herald)
Snohomish adopts sales tax for mental health, affordable housing

The city’s new 0.1% tax is also under consideration elsewhere in Snohomish County.

Michael Ciaravino
Ex-Mill Creek manager gets $92K severance after rocky tenure

Deputy City Manager Martin Yamamoto has temporarily taken over after Michael Ciaravino’s resignation.

Shawneri Guzman, center, who was named Washington's Fire Educator of the Year and her team of Community Resource firefighter paramedics Janette Anderson, left, and Captain Nicole Picknell, right, at the Lynnwood Fire Station on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021 in Lynnwood, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A pandemic playbook, used nationally, was made in Snohomish County

South County Fire helped transport “patient zero.” Their COVID manual has helped departments far and wide.

The Monroe Correctional Complex on Thursday, April 9, 2020. Inmates held a demonstration on Wednesday night after six inmates tested positive for COVID-19. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Another outbreak sends 60 to isolation at Monroe prison unit

One worker and one prisoner tested positive Monday. Then more cases were found throughout the Twin Rivers Unit.

Most Read