When Christina Masnyy was a freshman at Fife High School, her boyfriend told her she would never amount to anything.
“I was teased for being an immigrant and being different,” Masnyy said.
She almost believed it.
This month, Masnyy was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The annual award goes to only 161 students nationwide. In fall, she starts at UC Berkeley.
It’s quite a different life from the one she envisioned three years ago. She figured she might do a couple of years of community college and then settle for whatever employment came along.
“Looking back, it terrifies me that I was content with that,” Masnyy told The News Tribune on earlier this month.
Masnyy’s parents immigrated from Ukraine in 1997.
She recalled being made fun of by peers if they overheard her speaking Ukranian or saw her eating Eastern European food. Eventually, she stopped bringing food to school.
“I would go hungry instead because I didn’t want to be ridiculed,” she said.
Then there was the boyfriend who used her Ukranian background as a way to assert his dominance, she said, by undermining her confidence.
“Growing up, you felt like you weren’t fully Ukranian and not fully American,” Masnyy said. “I didn’t belong anywhere. It forced me to find a place where I did belong.”
That place was the Future Business Leaders of America, a national high school club that helps students prepare for careers in business.
That act — and getting out of her abusive relationship — changed her life, she said.
She made connections with other students across the country and developed leaderships skills, eventually becoming Washington state president for the organization. Masnyy also established goals and ambition.
“I decided I wanted to try harder,” she said.
In June, she will receive her high school diploma and associate degree through Highline College’s Running Start program. She has a 3.98 combined college and high school GPA.
Masnyy is only one of 20 Scholars nationwide in the area of career and technical education. In order to get the award, a student must demonstrate outstanding achievements in academics, the arts, technical expertise, leadership, citizenship and contribution to school and community.
She and the other Scholars will be flown to Washington D.C. in late June for a medallion ceremony and other honoring events.
Along with another student, Masnyy held a year-long fundraiser to help Make-A-Wish get a local girl to Disneyland.
“There’s always something that needs to be done in the community,” Masnyy said.
At Berkeley, she will study environmental economics and policy. She calls it a blend of her favorite things: government, business and the environment.
Masnyy works as many as three jobs to save money for school. Her parents are helping, too. Masnyy lives in Auburn with her parents. She has 15-year-old and 24-year-old brothers.
“At one point, I was working 40 hours a week, (serving as) FBLA state president, high school and college,” she said. “It was kind of hectic.”
She does it all while dealing with the daily health demands of being a type 1 diabetic.
Masnyy sought out adults who could mentor her. One of them is Rep. Denny Heck. Another is Fife High School teacher Laura Ramos. Ramos nominated Masnyy for the Scholar award.
Ramos, Masnyy’s business and marketing teacher, said Masnyy stood out among her students. Masnyy excels at learning in the classroom and then uses that to advance her extracurricular activities.
“She puts things into practice,” Ramos said. “She’s such a great kid.”
Ramos has known Masnyy for nearly the entirety of her high school years.
“It was really exciting to see someone, even in the ninth grade, be a sponge, interested in what you had to say,” Ramos said.
Masnyy said her story can serve as an example for others.
“It doesn’t matter who tells you can’t make it,” Masnyy said. “If you really set your mind to it, if you have the drive and motivation you can achieve it.”