Editor’s note: Every year, The Herald Journal profiles one graduating student from each valley high school. Profiled students are selected by administrators at the schools.
Moving to Cache Valley was not in Andrea Salvatierra’s plan.
She liked living in Mexico with her mother and her siblings. She was on the volleyball team. She was a good student with straight A’s.
“In Mexico, to be honest, I had everything,” Salvatierra said.
But after two of Salvatierra’s older siblings died in the space of a few years, her mother decided to send Salvatierra and one of her surviving brothers to the United States to live with their dad.
“I personally didn’t want to come because I didn’t want to leave my mom alone,” Salvatierra said. “I feel like she is the most precious thing I have.”
Salvatierra had been born in Cache Valley and lived in River Heights for the first few years of her life. When she was about 5, her family moved to Mexico.
Although Salvatierra had not wanted to come back to the valley, she was optimistic at first about starting over.
“I was really excited. I thought … I’m going to make the volleyball team. I’ll be everything again and have scholarships,” Salvatierra said.
But Salvatierra didn’t make the volleyball team. She missed her mom. Although she knew some English, she wasn’t fluent, and picking up on the language was hard.
“I got really depressed,” Salvatierra said. “I thought that everything was just going to not go well.”
Salvatierra decided it was time to get a job. She hadn’t worked in Mexico, and because she didn’t have references and was still learning English, it was hard to get hired. She eventually found a position at Carl’s Jr., where she has been working nearly 40 hours a week for almost two years.
Most of the money Salvatierra makes goes back to her mother in Mexico. With the rest she helps her dad pay bills and takes care of her personal needs, such as paying for school fees or concurrent enrollment credits.
Despite the amount of time Salvatierra has spent working, she hasn’t set school aside.
“I took a lot of hard classes because I like pushing myself a lot, because I feel every time I do that, I get better,” Salvatierra said. “That is motivation for me. If I can do better, that keeps me going to see where my limit is.”
According to one of Salvatierra’s English teachers, Shelley Robinson, this is what sets her apart.
“She just keeps persisting, persisting, persisting where most people would just kind of burn out,” Robinson said.
Robinson said because writing is such an important part of the courses she teaches she often has the opportunity to learn personal things about her students. She said as she learned about Salvatierra’s story, through both writing assignments and personal conversations, she was amazed.
“Her writing had so much imagery and emotion and feeling,” Robinson said. “There was a depth there that most kids her age don’t have because of her life experience; it just sharpened her. The only thing that was stopping her was finding the right words to say what she wanted to say. But I could tell that she had so much to say, so many stories.”
Salvatierra already knew college was the next step for her, and Robinson helped as she navigated the application process.
There were many roadblocks. Between her persistence and Robinson’s support, she successfully applied and was accepted to multiple schools, including the University of Utah.
Salvatierra earned a scholarship to the U, and she plans to study medicine there. She said she may attend Utah State University first while she works to save money, but she hasn’t decided yet. She wants to become a dentist, or maybe an OBGYN.
“I feel wonderful,” Salvatierra said. “I feel that I completed a goal in my life and in my family. I’m the first generation to even graduate high school.”
To Salvatierra, her graduation marks the beginning of an end.
“I want to break that line of my sister got pregnant, she dropped out. My mom got pregnant and she didn’t keep studying. I want to break that,” Salvatierra said.
According to Robinson, Salvatierra will be successful in making this change because it’s something she has put her mind to.
“You better believe it because she is just an incredible human and she is going to do amazing things. So I’m just excited for her,” Robinson said.
While moving to Cache Valley may not have been in Salvatierra’s plan, striving to be better and achieve more always have been and will continue to be.
“I need to graduate,” Salvatierra said. “I need to have money saved. I need to give that example for my kids. I want them to see that even though all this stuff has happened to me, there is nothing, nothing in the whole entire world that will stop you.”