Category: Science and technology
Education: Peninsula High School
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Parents: William and Joanne Kirby
Activities/Achievements: Ranked No. 1 academically, 5 AP/Honors classes, Scholar Athlete, National Honor Society, varsity girls’ swim team captain, water polo, swim instructor, CAPE guide, Washington Cultural Exchange to China for swimming, Tacoma Swim Club, class competitions winner
Constance Kirby is a top scholar who has a passion for STEM fields. Ranked No. 1 academically, this scholar athlete balances her perfect grades with varsity athletics as well as sharing her passions for swim and STEM with others.
Kirby’s interest in STEM began when she was in elementary school in England, where she attended a math club weekly to solve math problems. At Peninsula, she fell in love with chemistry after taking a chemistry class in 10th grade.
“She is an exceptional student who displays an uncommon intellectual curiosity and disciplined work ethic,” says chemistry teacher David Stitt. “She is adventurous in her learning and unafraid to take risks to maximize her learning.”
Kirby attributes her academic success to taking classes she’s interested in.
“I’ve always been naturally curious and not afraid to pursue something that very few girls pursue,” she says. “It’s a lot easier to do the work when you love what you’re doing, and that’s very important to me.”
Swimming competitively since she was 7, Kirby says her work ethic comes from athletics. She has competed at state level, both individually and on a relay team.
“I have watched Constance grow from a shy and quiet ninth-grader to a swim team captain and goal-oriented young lady,” says her coach, Craig Brown. “She is highly respected by her teammates.”
One of the highlights of her swim activities is working as a children’s swim instructor with the school district’s community swim program at the two high schools. She says it’s one of the most fulfilling things she’s done.
“Seeing kids being able to be safe and comfortable in the water is very important to me,” she says. “One of the best things I can do to help others is helping young kids learn a skill they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.”
Kirby also likes to share her passion with STEM. For two years, she has volunteered as a guide for the Career and Path Exploration, an annual STEM event for middle school girls.
“It was great to see middle school girls enjoy themselves with STEM subjects, and falling in love with STEM concepts like I did,” she says.
She is planning to turn that passion for STEM into a career. Kirby will study chemical engineering at Washington State University, where she also hopes to be a swim instructor or lifeguard.
Favorite teacher: Craig Brown, swim coach. “He has taught me a lot of valuable lessons and skills in and out of the water.”
Best thing about high school: “Anyone and everyone who comes to PHS is accepted and that acceptance makes Peninsula a better place to be.”
Category: Overcoming adversity
Education: Henderson Bay High School
Parents: Heather Uribe and John Karamatic
Activities/Achievements: Most Improved awards, CPR certified, West Sound Tech Center introduction to cosmetology certificate, Fish food bank volunteer, part-time job
Annie Karamatic didn’t think she would get to graduate from high school. After failing much of her middle school and the entire freshman year, however, she is not only graduating on time but also looking forward to attending college.
“The Annie Karamatic graduating this year is a very different girl than the Annie that first came to Henderson Bay High School,” says Henderson Bay High teacher Gayle Beard. “She is heading to a very bright and happy future.”
Karamatic has struggled with physical abuse, substance abuse and depression. After losing a close friend in a car accident in 2013, she became overwhelmed and lost all her motivation to go school. For a year, she couldn’t take any science classes because she’d taken science with her friend.
With time, she “came out of this dark place” and became focused on improving her grades and changing her life.
“This process was amazing to watch — happiness led to success in school, to self-confidence, to leaderships,” Beard says.
Karamatic says part of her new motivation to turn her life around was “retaliation” because she was tired of hearing that she wouldn’t graduate on time.
“I wanted to prove people wrong,” she says.
She made up credits by taking extra classes and credit-recovery classes and attending summer school. She now has straight A’s for the first time in her academic career.
She’s received recognition from her teachers in the form of certificates of achievement and student of the month nominations.
“She used to be the student who struggled and now she helps others grow like she did,” says social studies and core teacher Greg Brashear. “She has climbed mountains to get past some serious life obstacles and I am incredibly proud of her.”
Having stayed sober for three years now, Karamatic considers that her highest achievement. She says she wanted so much to change, she simply quit cold turkey.
Karamatic is not only doing well academically but also working part time as well as volunteering at Fish Food Bank. She says she is proud of her grades.
“I didn’t think I’d make it this far; I thought I would just drop out,” she says. “I’m looking forward to starting my life and seeing where I go from here.”
Karamatic plans to attend community college and become a body piercer. She would like to own her own business some day.
Favorite teacher: Greg Brashear, social studies and core, “because he has watched me grow and helped make me part of who I am today.”
Best thing about high school: “The environment is the best part of this school because everyone helps each other emotionally and academically.”
Education: Peninsula High School
Parents: Lynn and Mike Walch
Activities/Achievements: Varsity girls basketball starter, team captain, Fondi’s Athlete of the Week, All-League Honorable Mention; varsity track and field relay, district competitor; volleyball Most Improved; Scholar Athlete; 6 AP/Honors classes; DECA 5th in area, 9th at state; volunteer for Honor Flight, SAVE, Charity Water and others
Mackenzie Walch is a top scholar, outstanding athlete and quiet leader who leads by example. Described as kind and disciplined, she has maintained a near-perfect GPA while taking challenging classes, playing two sports at a time and volunteering many hours for various community service projects.
“She has the remarkable ability to instill confidence in others, elevating their expectations and their performance,” says chemistry teacher Hans Brockhoff.
Brockhoff says that one of her most outstanding traits is perseverance. After missing several weeks of school due to surgeries, Walch had to sit out of basketball and was also not able to write for more than a month.
“This experience taught her to adapt and overcome obstacles during difficult times,” Brockhoff says. “She not only succeeded in class but excelled, maintaining her 4.0 GPA. She achieved this without being discouraged or complaining about her circumstances.”
A multisport athlete, Walch says sports are a way for her to be active.
“My parents have always encouraged me to stay fit and stay active, and I’ve enjoyed being part of a team,” she says.
As the captain of the varsity girls basketball team, Walch led by example. Self-described as a quiet person, she says she likes to get to know people and doesn’t like to lead by telling others what to do.
“Mackenzie’s quiet reflection make her a natural at motivating others to do their best,” says Peninsula High counselor Peggy Cooper.
Walch says her biggest area of personal growth was her work ethic. As a freshman year, she wasn’t motivated to succeed in one of her classes, and let her GPA slide under 4.0 for the first time.
“I’m able to get things done now because I want to get them done, not because I need to,” she says.
She says her parents inspired her academic success. To maintain her GPA, she spends evenings and much of her weekends studying and doing homework.
“It’s just a habit now,” she says. “And I like to challenge myself with AP classes.”
Her favorite community project was raising money for Honor Flight to send veterans to Washington, D.C, to attend veterans’ memorials. Walch and her partner presented their project as part of a DECA competition, and placed ninth at state. She considers that her proudest moment of high school.
Inspired by her four years with DECA and marketing classes, Walch plans to study business or marketing at Boise State University.
Favorite teacher: Danielle O’Leary, leadership, “because she sparked my want to give back to my community and she makes me a better person.”
Best thing about high school: “Peninsula High is very accepting and friendly to everyone. When I transferred, it made me feel like I belonged and Peninsula made me feel like I was someone who could make a difference.”
Education: Gig Harbor High School
Parents: Karen and Joel Emery
Activities/Achievements: Varsity football starter, 2nd Team All-Narrows, 1st Team All-Narrows, 1st Team SSC, 2nd Team All-Area, captain, Most Promising, Lineman of the Year, Tacoma Athletic Commission Athlete of the Year; varsity basketball; varsity track shot put, No. 3 all-time freshman shot put record, 7th place in league; 9 AP/Honors classes; WIAA Outstanding Scholar Award; National Honor Society; tutoring; PYF football coach
Alex Emery is a three-sport star athlete who has maintained a near-perfect GPA while taking many advance classes as well as leadership roles. He’s been described as an engaging and hardworking individual who is committed to excellence.
A football player since sixth grade, Emery followed a tradition that included his father and two uncles. He found that he was natural at the sport, and he especially enjoyed the bonds he made with the players on the high school team.
Coach Paul Donion says that Emery’s work ethic even in eighth grade was “beyond his years.”
“As he started his football career in high school, his skills and dedication were a standout in a large football program,” Donion says. “(His) attributes of drive, intelligence, dedication and inspiring a team through his leadership led to the many awards and accolades bestowed upon him but also to being named the captain of the football team.”
The Gig Harbor High team made it to state playoffs during all four years of Emery’s tenure, and he was the starter for three of those years. This was the first time for the school to accomplish four consecutive stay playoffs, and Emery considers that achievement the highlight of high football career.
Emery had the opportunity to play in college, which would have continued the family tradition. However, after recently having the second surgery on his shoulder, he had to give up that dream. He said the decision “was pretty tough.”
“I always imagined I’d be playing football at the next level but it’s something I’ve come to terms with,” he says.
Emery says that his academic success stems from many late nights of studying and not getting much sleep.
“It’s been a struggle at some points,” he says, adding that his parents have been very supportive and helping him manage his schedule.
In addition to playing three sports and taking many advanced classes, Emery devoted his free time to volunteering for activities such as tutoring freshmen students, helping coach Peninsula Youth Football players and leading a Thanksgiving food drive.
“He is one of the most outstanding students I have worked with in my career of 30-plus years,” says science teacher Jo Ann Moore.
Inspired by his experience with orthopedic surgery, Emery plans hopes to become an orthopedic surgeon. He will study pre-medicine at the University of Washington.
Favorite teacher: Phyllis Payne, math, “for teaching us about more than just math; she taught us many life lessons as well as always believing in us.”
Best thing about high school: “How friendly and accepting GHHS is.”