Education: Gig Harbor High School
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Parents: Rito and Linda Ponce
Activities/Achievements: varsity water polo captain, MVP defense (2), MVP for state, First Team All-American, Cadet National Team, Youth National Team, school record holder (32 assists, 151 steals), Olympics National Development Team; varsity swimming state qualifier (4), medley relay 3rd place, 7th at state (100-yard back), team captain; Walk for Diabetes; splash ball and junior polo youth coach
Alana Ponce is a Running Start student at Tacoma Community College, where she has continued to maintain an excellent GPA. She’s left a mark on Gig Harbor High School as a gifted swimmer who broke records and has also been instrumental in the success of the water polo team, which won three state championships.
“She is known for unwavering support of her teammates even when she’s not competing. Her exuberance and team spirit was inspirational and unmatched,” says Michael Kelly, Gig Harbor High’s head swimming and water polo coach.
Ponce began swimming when she was 5 years old and likes the team aspect of water polo the most.
“I wouldn’t be able to do just swimming because I like the camaraderie and everything that comes along with being a teammate,” she says. “Competing against other teams makes you want to be a better player.”
On the high school team, she proved herself as a leader whose maturity, energy and intelligence made her popular with her peers.
“She will always be remembered for having fun and playing hard, while still commanding respect from all of her teammates and opponents,” Kelly says.
One of the highlights of Ponce’s swimming career was last year, when she was selected to the national team that’s part of the Olympics development program. During the five days with the program, she trained for eight hours each day, and in the end was invited to the youth national team.
Ponce decided as a sophomore that she wanted to be on a college water polo team, and began reaching out to coaches. She considers being selected for the George Washington University team her highest achievement in athletics so far.
In academics, she says she was motivated by her vision to attend a good college.
“It’s hard to balance everything but it was worth it,” she says.
Despite her success as an athlete and a scholar, Ponce says what she’s most proud of the most is the bonds she made not only with her schoolmates and teammates but also with the athletes from other schools.
“These bonds made me feel at home a little more, and it will be hard to leave,” she says.
At George Washington University, which is located in Washington, D.C., Ponce plans to study biology with the goal of pursuing a career in dentistry.
“I like the idea of having my own practice and being in control of my success,” she says.
Favorite teacher: Micheala Tenney, public speaking. “She was the first teacher who cared more about the students’ life after school. I never thought I would take a public speaking class but she made it worthwhile.”
Best thing about high school: “The school spirit was something that brought everyone together and created a community.”
Education: Gig Harbor High School
Parents: David and Elaine Harper
Activities/Achievements: 9 AP/Honors classes, ranked No. 1, National Merit Commended Scholar, state House page, Paul Allen Computer Science Challenge, Rotary Student of the Month, Doodle 4 Goole state winner, Interact vide president and secretary, choir section leader, church youth group class president, Rotary Youth Leadership Award Conference, Peninsula Youth Orchestra, pit orchestra, Ambassador Club, Seminary President’s Award, piano, violin, volunteer for Charity Water Drive, Basket Brigade and others
Rachel Harper does it all. She has a perfect GPA and excels in math and science. She sings in the choir and plays two musical instruments. She paints. She is also a devoted youth leader at her church and a mentor to her peers.
Ranked No. 1 academically, Harper has taken numerous challenging courses. She says her secret to success is “not getting enough sleep.”
“It’s not optional for me to do the work in my classes,” she says. “I also have good memory, but even when I don’t have to work at it excessively, I hold myself to high standards.”
While she’s known for her violin and keyboard performance as a member of the school band and a singer in the choir, Harper also has a talent for writing fiction and painting. At 14, she got to show off her artistic talent when she was selected as one of two Washington state winners in Google’s Doodle 4 Google logo contest.
One of her main school activities is the Interact Club, where she helps behind the scenes as an officer to organize service activities.
“It’s a good way to be involved in community service,” she says.
Harper devotes much of her time to her church, and has received the Seminary President’s Award for several years for participating in an early seminary class every morning before school.
As the president of her church class, Harper has proven herself as a leader and peer mentor who can help bring unity to the group. She also serves as the music coordinator.
“These responsibilities have been a personal sacrifice of her time, energy and self,” says Brenda Callahan, who has known Harper through church for many years and has watched her “develop and refine her talents as a gifted pianist, a confidently quiet leader, an inspirational artist and an interesting public speaker.”
“The ability she has to manage her time and create good life balance is incredible,” Callahan says. “She truly is an exceptional young woman.”
Harper says she’s proud that she’s achieved the goals she set for herself, despite being a shy person.
“I had to motivate myself and force myself to put myself out there,” she says.
She’s also proud that she was able to prove that being creative and being academically talented “doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
She plans to pursue that creative side in college, studying English at Brigham Young University. Her goal is become a professional writer or editor.
Favorite teacher: Wayne Lackman, choir. “He is kind and understanding but still effective and knowledgeable in what he does.”
Best thing about high school: “There is room for people to be respected for many different interests and talents. Everyone can find a niche.”
Education: Peninsula High School
Parents: Mike and Elaine Hettick
Activities/Achievements: Running Start; 4-H Club president, equestrian state championships (6), supreme medals (3), Pierce County youth horse board member, horse riding instructor, national reserve team for communications; varsity high school equestrian team captain, vice president, drill team co-captain; Phi Theta Kappa; varsity swim; varsity track; varsity letter in volunteering; Pierce County Young Adult Award; Student Store manager; Katie’s Krops leader; 1,000-plus volunteer hours
Shawna Hettick is an accomplished equestrian who has given more than 1,000 hours of community service through her passion for horses as well as other community projects. A Running Start student at Tacoma Community College, she will graduate high school with an associate degree in business.
Growing up on a farm, she began to take care of horses from an early age. In third grade, she began competing with the 4-H Club and has since earned numerous accolades.
At county level, Hettick has earned 20 medals, including three supreme, the highest county honor. She won six state championships with 4-H and another with her high school team, and went to nationals twice.
As part of the South Kitsap High School equestrian team, Hettick will once again head to state this year. She’s also served as team captain.
Hettick doesn’t just compete. She shares her passion for horses by teaching, marketing the team and organizing judging workshops, among other things. For her 4-H volunteering efforts, she was recognized with a Pierce County Young Adult Award.
“The example she has set for younger youth in the program has been exemplary,” says Jill McNally, Pierce County 4-H Board superintendent.
As a member since 2015 with the Pierce County 4-H Board, Hettick has been the most active teen leader McNally has seen in her 12 years as a 4-H leader.
“To top if off, Shawna is very well respected among her peers,” she says. “She is the first to offer a congratulation, supporting word and smile.”
Despite her full schedule with horses, Hettick found the time to be on the varsity swim team for four years and varsity track for three, while also volunteering for numerous projects through 4-H and on her own.
“I’ve learned a lot about time management,” she says. “I’ve had to organize my schedule to fit everything I wanted, and I learned about prioritizing.”
Her community service includes the Salvation Army, Tacoma Rescue Mission and Katie’s Krops at Purdy Elementary.
“She’s a doer, motivator, participant … always interested in what’s next,” says Diane Brignone, whose known Hettick for many years. “And she gives everything she does her all.”
Hettick discovered her second passion — marketing — after taking a class and has since looked for ways to combine that with her passion for horses. She will attend Central Washington University as a junior and study marketing, with a minor in communication. Her goal is to be an equine marketer.
Favorite teacher: John Selfors, business and marketing, “because he taught me to become more independent.”
Best thing about high school: “Peninsula is an amazing school because it supports me and my goals.”
Emma Taylor has been described as an exceptional student who combines qualities such as intelligence, compassion and authenticity. She is equally interested in environmental sustainability and political theory, and her high school career has demonstrated her passion for both.
As part of the Peninsula Speech and Debate Team, Taylor has sharpened her communication skills and ability to think on her feet. The team has also helped her cultivate an interest in political theory and democracy, which she became interested in while living during a polarized political climate in Oklahoma when she was still in middle school.
“Speech and Debate teaches you how to be your own thinker and how to formulate your own ideas and convey them to other people,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot about the world through it, and it made me a much more rounded person.”
The captain of the debate team for two years, Taylor is currently leading the middle school debate team. She is also the captain of the Knowledge Bowl team.
“Time and again, Ms. Taylor has impressed me with her intellectual curiosity,” says English teacher Kimberly Napier.
Many of Taylor’s extracurricular activities are centered on helping her peers — mentoring and tutoring — as well as the environment. Through the Environmental Club, she has dedicated many hours to community service.
“I believe in stewardship for the Earth. Only positive things can come out of doing things for other people, and environmental stewardship is a way to give back to the future generations,” she says.
Taylor has maintained a near-perfect GPA while taking 14 AP and Honors classes. She says her academic success is based on her pursuit of knowledge.
“I place intrinsic value in academics and learning. I’m not someone who thinks good grades are ‘be all, end all’ — I enjoy learning as much as I can,” she says.
Of all her achievements, she’s most proud of her leadership in the classroom, speech and debate and Knowledge Bowl, which allowed her to be outgoing as well as set high standards.
“I like to challenge myself and help others challenge themselves,” she says.
Many of Taylor’s role models are teachers. Inspired by them and her love for lifelong learning, she wants to become a teacher as well.
She will attend Washington State University’s Honors College and likely study political science and French.
Her original career choice was organic agriculture. While she couldn’t pursue that major together with a teaching certificate, she still plans to continue her interest in organic farming and living sustainably.
Favorite teacher: Kimberly Napier, English. “She is a champion of holistic education. More than just being the best academic teacher I have ever learned under, she also taught me about matters like responsibility.”
Best thing about high school: “Peninsula High is by far the most amazing community I have been part of. I have attended over 12 schools, yet PHS is the one place that I felt like I had a place to belong and like everyone in our school was cheering me on.”