(Editor's note: This is another in a series of perseverance articles featuring students from the class of 2021 who have overcome adversity).

Seventeen-year-old Candelaria Sanchez is not your typical teen. Not only did she complete her college courses in December of 2020 to earn her Associated of Arts degree from Porterville College, but she did it six months before graduating in June with the Class of 2021 from Summit Collegiate High School.

Life is a funny thing. It comes with tragedy, heartbreak, memories and happiness, but ultimately we decide how to view life and where to go,” Sanchez said. “I’m someone who has beaten all odds and statistics.”

Sanchez knows what poverty is and said she can remember nights when her mother worried where the next meal would come from, but doesn't remember ever not having food on her plate — even if it meant her mother would give up her meal for her children.

My amazing mother has always managed to make ends meet,” Sanchez said. “Over the years our financial situation has gotten better because every day she wakes up and chooses to work hard to make a better life for us.”

Her mother’s own dedication to family and work inspired Sanchez.

Coming from a family of teen pregnancy, addiction and drop outs, Sanchez was determined to not let the past define her.

I’m a first generation (going to college) and I’m extremely proud of how far I’ve come and where I come from,” Sanchez said. “I decided that I was going to put in the effort and break those generational curses. Although it has happened in my family for generations, it does not need to continue with me — and it won’t.”

Sanchez said she started taking college courses her freshman year because they were offered but soon realized if she continued, she could get a few courses out of the way.

I had to grow up fast because of the cards I was dealt with. But because of this, I realized and learned a lot,” Sanchez said. “I realized that if I wanted to get out of this kind of life, I would have to play my hand right and put in the work because hard work beats talent all day every day.”

She took the opportunity and chance she was given to better her future, her education and her knowledge, she said, resulting in graduating from college with her AA before graduating from high school — and doing it all by age 17.

Cande is an exemplary student that was always focused and dedicated to her learning and education,” said her principal, Martin Medina. “At Summit, we are very proud of her academic accomplishments, but even prouder of the caring, kind individual she is with others. We are looking forward to her future accomplishments.”

It was one of the reasons, Kiwanis of Porterville has selected her as a recipient for a scholarship towards furthering her education at Fresno Pacific University in the Fall.

She is such an inspiration to others. She is very humble but she knows what she wants and the reason for it,” said Kiwanis member Bert Martinez Yarbrough. “She’s an impressive role model to other kids.”

And she’s always there for her friends, said her mother Raquel Garza.

She has such a big heart. She is a very loving and kind person, always putting herself on the back burner,” Garza said. “If her friends have a problem, she’s right there for them.”

I know I have a rocky past, have too many problems, and have gone through too many hardships that it will take days for me to even explain all of it but I can say one thing. I do not believe in luck. I believe in hard work and determination,” Sanchez said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you’ve been through. It only matters where you’re going and what you decide you want to do with your life.”

Having overcome all odds, Sanchez said she wouldn't go back in time and change her childhood and upbringing because it has made her who she is.

It has made me ambitious for the future. It has made me hopeful for my career. I know what I am capable of and because of that, I have always pushed myself,” Sanchez said. “I have always signed up for more than what people think I could handle and I have succeeded in all aspects. I have accomplished so much in high school already, I can only imagine what the future holds for me.”

Garza said whatever it is, she knows it will be amazing.

She’s blown me out of the water every time,” Garza said. “She always takes on more than what I think she can and each time she proves me wrong. She can handle anything.”

Ever since she was a little girl, she was an overachiever, Garza said. Her pediatrician was impressed when at age 3 she could answer all the questions correctly, including age, address and other miscellaneous questions.

She wowed him,” Garza said. “She’s always been good at memorizing everything. She’s been good at everything and I know she will with anything she wants to be.”

Sanchez was Student Body Vice President and Class President her senior year. She volunteered and tried to make a difference in her community, juggling many things in life and still succeeding, she said.

I know what I want in life and I’m planning to do everything in my power to get there, whether it takes me five or 10 years,” Sanchez said. “I want to keep the passion for success and knowledge burning inside me. I want to keep on learning and growing so I can become the woman I’m meant to be.”

Her past won't define her, she said. What defines her is what she decides to do with her experiences.

I plan to double major in Psychology and Social Work at Fresno Pacific and my past is a big factor on my choice of major. I want to help people that can’t find a way to help themselves. I want to be someone who makes a difference in people’s lives — one who shows children that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Sanchez said. “I was a victim. I know what it feels like to not have anyone in your corner. I now what it feels like to want to give up. I know every single stage of anger, guilt and blame that a person has gone through because I have gone through it myself. My childhood was not all sunshine and rainbows — but here I am a survivor, overcoming all odds and making the most out of my situation. This is only the beginning for the accomplishment and goals I have yet to achieve.”

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