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Selfless Seniors

Since 2008, photographer Frank Frost has partnered with the Foundation to recognize seniors in high school who have selflessly given back to their communities, usually without recognition or praise. These young adults have already made a difference in their schools and neighborhoods and inspire their peers and all of us to do the same.

Selections are made by a committee of community partners and volunteers, and the decision is not an easy one. Each Selfless Senior not only represents themselves and their families, but the amazing work of countless high school students who are making a positive difference in our city each and every day.

Learn more about our 2021 Selfless Seniors

Sophia Rio Chavez
Albuquerque High School

 “Throughout my life, my family has instilled a sense of civic duty and giving back to our community. Working with my Youth Group at the Safe House and serving food to the homeless showed me the significance of delivering compassion and love to those around me. I found happiness volunteering at Serendipity Day School and was humbled by teaching the little ones how to read and share. Although becoming Student Body President of my school during COVID has been a challenge, working alongside a dedicated officer team, we have spread positivity virtually keeping students involved and motivated.

When I graduate from high school my hope for Albuquerque is that individuals find the silver linings of 2020 and commit to showing kindness to one another.” 

Griselda Montes
Atrisco Heritage Academy High School

"As a complicated year where everyone was having trouble adjusting and adapting to the fact that we have to protect ourselves from a virus it is hard.  We faced new challenges like having to do online schooling that benefited us in a way where we had to learn more about how certain apps work, and that can help us later in life. We need to understand that we need to keep our heads up, keeping going forward, and not to be afraid of coming out of our comfort zones because life can be tough and we need to find solutions to overcome our obstacles.

When I graduate from high school my hope for Albuquerque is to be a safe place where people can grow.”

Taylor Christiansen
Cibola High School

"Hello! My name is Taylor Christiansen and I'm a fifth generation New Mexican. I feel very blessed and honored to receive this award and to represent my school. During my time as a Cibola Cougar, I have had the opportunity to serve as class presidents, and currently, Student-Body President. My involvement has led me to serve not only my peers, but my community. I am blessed to be able to give back to Seed2Need, a Corrales food pantry project, lead my school’s Operation Smile student club, and participate in volunteer opportunities organized by my church. In the midst of quarantine, my younger brother and I launched our apparel and accessory brand, 'All Sick'. Our designs and logos combine the unique culture of New Mexico with our passions. With every purchase we give back a portion of the proceeds to a featured non-profit organization. Our business has allowed me to support charitable causes both in time and with monetary donations. I have been taught that where much is given, much is required. The beautiful thing about serving others is that we receive so much more than we give.

When I graduate from high school, my hope for Albuquerque is that it continues to be a beacon of diversity and opportunity for all."

Cameron Ortega
Del Norte High School

“When I was a young girl my mother told me ‘You never know what happens behind closed doors, so always be kind and respectful to those around you.’ Honestly, I had no idea what she meant when she said this until I realized I had my own issues happening behind my closed door. Even though I was going through my own challenges I always stayed respectful, kind, honest and loyal to everyone I knew and even people who I just met. Receiving this award reminded me of how much an act of kindness really means, especially now with everything going on. Even though I volunteer with Roadrunner Food Bank, send letters to our veterans, read books to and interact with younger ages, I believe that being kind every day and putting a smile on your face makes a big difference in not only your own life, but for those around you. Even though it seems smaller than those other huge selfless activities, saying ‘Hi’ or even giving someone a compliment can really make someone's day or even without knowing you can save a life. I have had the honor of being accepted into many programs at my school such as the AVID program, National Honor Society, Black Student Union, Spanish Honor Society, Student Leadership and even being able to participate in Volleyball, Track and Field and Wrestling. All of these amazing programs have helped me grow as not only a student but as a person as well.

When I graduate from high school my hope for Albuquerque is that we learn to come together as a community to do better things for our hard-working citizens like our teachers, doctors, fire fighters, nurses, police officers, fast food, retail and construction workers.”

Melina Vugrin
Eldorado High School

“’Fight for what you care about.’ I recently discovered Justice Ginsburg’s guidance, but the sentiment has driven my call to service. I always connected with animals. They enrich our lives as pets, service animals, and wildlife, but they cannot advocate for themselves when experiencing cruelty. Much of my volunteering has focused on helping animals, through organizing supply drives, volunteering at rescues, and data analysis supporting animal welfare legislation. The time spent on these efforts never felt like work because I believe in the cause. My passion is animal welfare, but I recognize the cause may not speak to everyone.

So, when I graduate from high school, my hope for Albuquerque is that each of us recognize our individual passions and that we take action to further them.” 

Ariana Magana-Ramirez
Highland High School

“Before I had enrolled in Highland High School, I always knew I wanted to be involved extensively in my school and community. Throughout my journey I participated in many sports, including Soccer, Cross Country, Basketball, Track and a sport I would have never thought to compete in, Wrestling! As I joined many extracurricular activities such as FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America), MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan) and Cooking Club, I was able to partake in what meant the most to me. I am proud to have participated in creating and catering our school’s Tutoring Diners, where families could enjoy a free and nutritious meal and students could get free tutoring on anything they needed. During this time, we have provided over 2,500 free meals to families! Not only was I able to give back to my school and community but I had the opportunity to advocate for them as well. Once a month we would hold protests with MEChA to fight for issues that were important to me and others like DACA and voting. In my spare time I would engage in peaceful protests during these difficult times of injustice. These amazing opportunities that were available at my school have not only helped me give back to my amazing community but have also shaped the person I am to this day. I am a proud Chicana who will fight for what is right and help the community I have been raised in. I want to thank my family, friends and passionate teachers who have motivated and pushed me to do my very best and being with me every step of the way especially during these troubling times. Without this overwhelming support from these people, I would not be the person I have become and for this I am very thankful.

When I graduate from high school my hope for Albuquerque is to become a strong community by coming together, despite our differences, and by helping each other out.”

Maura Johnson
La Cueva High School

"Teen suicide and depression are major issues in New Mexico. I, like so many of my peers, have struggled with mental health. I was lucky enough to find my way out of this darkness, but I know many of my peers are not so lucky. Given that I know how devastating the suicide of a teen can be on an entire community, I decided to use my voice to help others. Mental health is a wide spectrum and taking care of your mental health starts with little things such as self-care. In fact, recognizing when you need a break is one of the first steps to taking ownership of your mental health. This idea is what inspired me to reach out to New Mexico legislators with hopes of passing a bill that would allow for mental health absence days in schools. Sometimes, the pressures of school can put more stress on teens who are already drowning. Mental health is just health, and if students can take days off of school to focus on their physical health, they should be able to take days to focus on their mental health too. It wasn't easy finding the courage to speak up about the issues that I saw in my community, but I hope that I can inspire my peers and friends to do the same as well. The more we unite together as students, the harder we will be to ignore. We have to come together and help each other out. The only way to make real change is to do it together. So, I encourage anybody who is reading this to use your voice. Your voice is your biggest weapon! Do not take that for granted.

When I graduate from high school, my hope for Albuquerque is that students feel brave enough to lean on each other, ask for help when they need it, learn self-care strategies, and, most importantly, speak out when necessary.”

Ayanna Teague
Manzano High School

“Out of the chaotic-ness of my week, one of my highlights is always going to work. Knowing I wouldn’t have human interaction at school, being able to listen to my coworkers when they were having a bad day, or even starting a conversation with a customer kept me sane. In my junior year, I managed to work 25 hours a week on top of my full schedule of school and my three extracurricular classes, so my senior year I had a good understanding of taking care of priorities. In my virtual senior year, I was elected as Secretary of Student Senate and President of our Black Student Union. After realizing we wouldn’t be back in school for a while, I noticed my classmates in clubs lost passion and had no hope left. Eventually, it got pretty difficult to be passionate about my clubs as well because no one would participate. Being so involved can tend to be stressful so I always tell myself to take it one day at a time. If I’ve got a long list of things to do and I only get halfway, it’s really the fact that I even started. Life sometimes tends to feel rushed and even when everyone is going at a fast pace, I remind myself and others to value each and every day, hour, and minute of life.

When I graduate from high school my hope for Albuquerque is that even in the most chaotic of situations we can all take time to realize that there is no such thing as a time restraint on life and we should enjoy our work and what we do.”

Tyler Chavez
Rio Grande High School

“My name is Tyler Chavez, and I am very thankful to have been honored for something like this.   I never would’ve thought I would’ve earned something so insane as being a Selfless Senior. Genuinely I have always just wanted people to feel comfortable around me and want everyone to feel appreciated. My parents have always raised me to just treat everyone with respect, and after my father passed away earlier this year, I really took everything he and my mother had taught me and tried to really use that every day. I try and treat everyone with respect and go that extra mile for anything, whether it’s opening the door for someone, carrying things, or just anything that someone around needs help with. I’m just a normal kid. I learned a lot about respect and how to treat people from playing sports my whole life, and I really just try and use the lessons I’ve learned throughout my life to help others and even teach others.

When I graduate from high school my hope for Albuquerque is that the community and the people can have a healthy relationship with each other, and everyone’s opinions are heard in one way or another.”

Sarah Rutherford
Sandia High School

Hello, my name is Sarah Rutherford. I am honored to find out that I was nominated and selected to be the Sandia High School Selfless Senior for the 2020-2021 school year. For me, volunteering is two-fold. It's not about the recognition, which is nice, but about what I, you, people give back to the community and the great feeling you get while doing so. The organizations that I volunteer for such as Fat Katz cat rescue and Wanagi Wolf Rescue are dear to my heart. I not only get to help take care of cats and wolves, but I also get to take care of myself. It is a wonderful stress reliever and a great way to show love and compassion to animals that have been abused, forgotten, or just left out. It shows them that not all humans are bad and they are going to find forever homes filled with love. It's a fantastic feeling knowing that I can give in a small way, to a world that is much greater than me.

When I graduate from high school my hope for Albuquerque is that as a city, as a community they can give back to what has given us so much!”

Isaiah Baca
Valley High School

“A smile is the most impactful action that inspires me to do my best and strive for success. Being raised with old-fashioned values has presented me with many wonderful opportunities. I am extremely grateful, especially for my family who supported me in all my desires.  Whether it was playing basketball, paintball, traveling, fishing, hunting, riding my four-wheeler, or helping me build my dream car. Most importantly they always encouraged me to excel academically. My father being a five-time cancer survivor and my mother being on a feeding tube for 10 years has driven my passion to become a doctor. My goal is to become a reconstructive plastic surgeon here in New Mexico and give back to a community that has given me so much. I’m grateful that I was able to be involved in UNM’s Curanderismo health fairs, Health Careers Academy, and I received the Vanetta Perry award in the New Mexico’s State Science Fair. I’m proud to have volunteered to altar serve at Holy Family Parish each Sunday for the past 11 years. My favorite aspect was witnessing the smiles of those who I had helped and I hope in becoming a plastic surgeon that I can offer care to those with deformities and give them confidence that shows in their smile.

When I graduate high school my hope for Albuquerque is that even though we are struggling during this dark pandemic, that we can stick together and persevere as a community.” 

Jade Mendoza
Volcano Vista High School

“Throughout my time at Volcano Vista, I have learned to be the light in the darkness. For me, being the light means creating and being a part of service projects based on spreading kindness. This year I took part in a month-long project designed to show appreciation to students, staff, spirit, and the community called “Dude Be Nice Month”. It made me realize now more than ever we need to come together as a community and support one another. If you have the chance to make someone’s day better do it because every interaction you have with someone is a chance to leave a positive impact on their life. This life is beautiful and so are you.

When I graduate from high school my hope for Albuquerque can be found in the answer to this question, ‘How can you be the light?’”

Natalia Hernandez
West Mesa High School

“My name is Natalia Hernandez and I am a proud Mustang. Mustangs are a symbol of freedom and limitless possibilities, which I would say I have fully embodied. As a bilingual student, my learning experiences were plentiful and provided me with a number of opportunities to show others of our limitless possibilities. Through my involvement in dance, track, Mustang Amigos and Senate, I was able to further develop my leadership skills. The result of my hard work was earning a Captain position on both teams, as well as Senior Class President which enabled me to meet new friends and experience good times. I was constantly told by the people around me, my high school years were going to fly by and they definitely did. I can say, without a doubt, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was with the help of my family, friends and school faculty I was able to make my 4 years of high school memorable and fun.  I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to represent my school as a Selfless Senior. I want to inspire others to get involved in their community, not to make themselves look good but to do it out of the kindness in their hearts.

When I graduate from high school my hope for Albuquerque is for us to see past the barriers we may encounter to make a statement for the betterment of our future.

Mi nombre es Natalia Hernandez y soy una Mustang Orgullosa. Los Mustangs son un símbolo de libertad y posibilidades ilimitadas, que yo diría que he personificado plenamente. Como estudiante bilingüe, mis experiencias de aprendizaje fueron abundantes y me brindaron una serie de oportunidades para mostrar a otros nuestras posibilidades ilimitadas. A través de mi participación en la danza, el equipo de atletismo, Mustang Amigos y Senate, pude desarrollar aún más mis habilidades de liderazgo. El resultado de mi trabajo fue ganar un puesto de Capitán en ambos equipos, así como Presidente de la Clase de los Seniors, lo que me permitió conocer nuevos amigos y vivir buenos momentos. La gente que me rodeaba me decía constantemente que mis años de la preparatoria iban a pasar volando y definitivamente lo hicieron. Puedo decir, sin lugar a dudas, que no cambiaría nada. Fue con la ayuda de mis familiares, amigos y profesores de la escuela que pude hacer que mis 4 años de la preparatoria fueran memorables y divertidos. Estoy muy agradecida por esta oportunidad de representar a mi escuela como un Selfless Senior. Quiero inspirar a otros a involucrarse en su comunidad, no para verse bien, sino para hacerlo con la bondad de su corazón.

Cuando me gradúe de la preparatoria, mi esperanza para Albuquerque es que veamos más allá de las barreras que podamos encontrar para hacer una declaración para el mejoramiento de nuestro futuro.”

Francesca Miles
New Futures School

“Throughout my whole high school career, I never would have dreamed of becoming a Selfless Senior, I am extremely grateful to be one of the 2021 Selfless Seniors and to have an opportunity to shed some light on one of the lesser-known high schools, my high school, New Futures. I am incredibly blessed to have found this school and to have their continued support.

A year ago, I was a high school dropout. I was a teen parent and scared of what the future would hold for me and my child. I heard about New Futures and I never expected to meet all of the incredible people I met and how much they would change my life. The teachers and staff at New Futures opened a number of doors for me, as well as pushed me towards my future goals of becoming a zoologist and opening my own wildlife rescue. I have also found an incredible amount of joy in supporting and coaching youth volleyball, fostering animals for Central New Mexico Beagle Rescue amongst other rescues, and assisting in a classroom for students with disabilities. I will continue to expand my work in the community and encourage other young people to do the same.

I owe a special thank you to many educators who have helped me through the rough points of life, as well as pushed me to be my best self. Jared Benavidez, Tristan Chavez, Elena Esquibel, Diane Cabral, Nancy Lopez, Margaret Lucero and Jonathan Hagmier - thank you for your continued support and help throughout my high school career. I appreciate you all more than you will ever know! To all of you younger students, teen parents, or anyone struggling - know that the sky's the limit and you can do anything you put your mind to.

When I graduate high school, my hope for Albuquerque is that we can all learn to be more supportive of each other and our community.”