Walking into Mountain Crest High School in Hyrum, the phrase “kind matters” is written on the sidewalk in the school’s navy blue and orange colors. Irene Midgley, a graduating senior at the school, saw the words each day but added her own motto, “No matter how hard life gets, keep pushing,” which has led her to become an honors student and the first in her family to go to college.
Midgley has clung onto these values through various group homes and foster homes in Washington, Arizona and Utah. She was taken away from her mother as a child, and after returning to her in 2012 in Ogden, she was taken away again.
“Since 2012, it’s been like, this is the only school that I’ve stayed at for more than two years,” Midgley said of Mountain Crest. “I’ve been to every elementary school in Ogden. My brother went back with my mom and I ended up in Cache Valley. That was when schooling really clicked in and I realized that graduating is my way out, to not follow in my mom’s footsteps.”
While in school, Midgley has managed the girls’ basketball team and has played both volleyball and softball.
“I was just a student getting good grades and not doing anything with my life, and one of my friends told me that I should manage basketball,” Midgley said. “I had only played once or twice. But I did that and then a girl on that team told me, ‘You should do softball,’ and I did it and loved it.”
For Midgley, keeping busy with school activities was important to her.
“I started getting straight A's in school, and I would freak out if I got anything less than an A because I felt like I was failing. I just wanted to keep myself busy and out of trouble,” Midgley said.
Midgley said that she had a bad caseworker and felt like she had no help figuring out what she wanted to do with her life. Midgley has two older brothers and two older sisters but has no contact with any of them. She ultimately decided that she wanted to be able to help other children in foster care.
“I want to be able to help other kids in foster care like me,” Midgley said. “I’m a little more put together than a lot of kids in foster care and I cannot imagine other kids trying to handle stuff with the state, knowing how hard it was for me.”
Midgley said she's caught herself going down the same path as her mom in some cases, but then she turns back to the school.
The faculty and staff at Mountain Crest have been instrumental in helping Midgley realize her dream of helping others, because they helped her so much, she said.
“Normally teenagers are like, ‘I hate school,’" Midgley said. "But I love coming to school and I love everyone here. It’s like a break from life for me.”
Midgley took AP classes and has been accepted to Utah State for pre-law and law constitutional studies.
Midgley plans to be a guardian ad litem, someone who represents foster students.
“You represent them and are there for them,” Midgley said. “My first GAL was kind of crappy and I felt like I was just trapped, being in the state’s custody. It’s hard because you feel like property more than a person … and so that’s where my interest in law came from. I want to be able to help people who feel trapped get out of it.”
Along the way, teachers and coaches such as Allison Finehour, Michael Buttars and Mike Anderson have been instrumental to Midgley’s success.
“My English teacher, Mrs. Finehour, is like a mom to me. And I know I have people here who back me up, and they are like my family,” Midgley said. “My coaches, I don’t think I’d be able to get through high school without them. They have always been there to lift me up while home is going bad.”
Midgley said that the staff at Mountain Crest High School has helped her keep pushing through the hard times and that Buttars is like a dad to her.
“We are so luck to have Irene, a senior and an amazing human,” said Kris Hart, a counselor at Mountain Crest. “She is such a great student.”
Midgley said that family has been really important to her, even though she said hers is unconventional.
“I take exactly what my mom does, and I do the opposite,” Midgley said. “That sounds petty, I know, but I would not change my hardest moments for anything in the world because that has made me who I am. That’s what I can thank my mom for.”
Midgley’s first two years at high school were hard, but now she lives with a single mother in Nibley and she said that she has grown in confidence and maturity.
“Getting through life has been my greatest achievement,” Midgley said. “My mom didn’t even make it through grade school.”
Traveling is at the top of Midgley’s bucket list and she said that she loves seeing the culture of different people. Going from Washington to Cache Valley was a big culture shock for her.
“When I first moved here, I was forced to go to church because in foster care you aren’t allowed to stay home,” Midgley said. “I went to the LDS Church and felt out of place. I was raised Christian and I felt out of place at a Christian church too, when I went back. But religion has always been interesting to me.”
Overall, Midgley said she aims to be successful and happy, no matter where her life takes her. She said that she has struggled because she has done what she is told to do but wants to be able to do things for herself. She noted that her struggles have defined her but that doesn’t make her any different.
“No matter how much I’ve been through, that does not mean that my situation is worse than yours,” Midgley said. “Everyone always has it harder than you have it. That’s why I have a lot of friends because I’m easy to talk to, because I’ve been through a lot of situations and can give advice.
Midgley will graduate with her peers May 29.