Four students Accept the Challenge of Excellence
May 03, 2019 10:58AM
● By Jet Burnham
Sam Goodrich appreciates the support of school administrators and his parents as he worked to turn his life around. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
The West Jordan Exchange Club awarded the A.C.E. (Accepting the Challenge of Excellence) Award and a $500 scholarship to four inspiring high school students who have overcome difficult circumstances to make dramatic changes in their attitudes and academic performances throughout high school.
“This special recognition serves as a powerful example to all students that hard work and perseverance are rewarded,” said club president Gwen Knight. “It recognizes those students who are often overlooked for their accomplishments.”
Sam Goodrich, Itineris Early College High School
“The event in my life that I am the most proud of was when I saved myself from dropping out of high school,” said Sam Goodrich, a senior at Itineris Early College High School.
Following a junior year of skipping classes and other poor choices, Goodrich realized his future was at risk. He considered how much effort he had already spent on his education and his parents’ efforts to keep him in school.
“It almost would have been a disservice or a letdown to let all of that go to waste,” he said.
He spent the summer making up credits from failed classes.
“For a young person to be able to have the maturity to look at their mistakes and some of their choices and to learn from them instead of being enabled by them—I’m really proud of him,” said Principal Renee Edwards. “He’s not given up, and he’s worked hard this year and is on track to graduate.”
Goodrich’s father, Galen Goodrich, said receiving the award has been a boost to his son’s commitment to graduate.
“Events like this are incredible for motivation and self-esteem of the students,” he said. “It just is huge and speaks volumes for the efforts of the students. I’m just really proud of my son for getting back on track and going the extra mile so he can graduate and go on in life.”
Ryan Zwemke, Valley High School
The $500 scholarship from the Exchange Club has had a positive impact on Ryan Zwemke, who attends Valley High School.
“It’s going to motivate me a lot more to go to [college],” he said. “I was still on the fence and not 100 percent sure, but now I’m fully 100 percent committed, and I’m wanting to go to [college] now just because I have more of a chance.”
Jacinto Peterson was Zwemke’s school administrator during his middle school years and is now an assistant principal at Valley High School.
“I’ve known him for seven years, and in that time, I’ve never seen him without a smile on his face,” Peterson said, acknowledging that Zwemke has had some struggles. “Sometimes when kids are smiling, they’re still going through hard times.”
Depression, coupled with ADHD, made juggling school and family responsibilities difficult for Zwemke. During his sophomore year, his grades started plummeting as did his will to live.
Peterson is proud of Zwemke for his willingness to hang on even when he felt hopeless. Zwemke pushed through his hard times and is proud of his accomplishments.
“Now I’m on track to graduate with mostly all passing grades,” said Zwemke, who plans to study auto mechanics after high school. “I couldn’t be happier in this point in my life.”
Peterson is also optimistic about Zwemke’s future.
“His greatest qualities are his hard work and his wonderful demeanor about life,” he said. “We hope that Ryan continues to do great things—make some super car or whatever he’s going to do.”
Aspen Blumentrantz , West Jordan High School
Despite a traumatic childhood and living with medical issues brought about by her mother’s drug addiction, Aspen Blumentrantz is committed to have a positive outcome from her experiences.
“I would not be who I am today if it weren’t for that period in time,” said Blumentrantz of her childhood. “I am proud to say I didn’t let my upbringing destroy my potential as a successful person. I stayed away from drugs and did excellent in school throughout my whole life.”
Things are even better for Blumentrantz since her open-heart surgery last December. She hopes to earn a degree in environmental or wildlife studies and dedicate her life to “loving and caring for the planet and everything on it.”
“When I set off on my own to get a degree and be a contributing citizen to society, I hope that by doing so I can truly change the way others view how they treat one another and their environment,” she said.
WJHS assistant principal Mike Hutchings is impressed with Blumentrantz’s attitude.
“She’s had a lot of obstacles in her life,” said Hutchings. “The thing that sticks out to me most is she hasn’t used those obstacles as an excuse but has used those obstacles to become stronger. A person that has had the obstacles that she’s had could easily look at those obstacles and feel bad for herself. She’s thinking about other people, wants to better the world for them, not necessarily her.”
Makayla Infanzon, Copper Hills High School
Makayla Infanzon, a senior at Copper Hills High School, has also worked to channel her challenges into a positive outcome.
“I have made my trials motivation—I am this way because I’ve had my experiences,” said Infanzon, who, from enduring homelessness and abandonment, gained a strong work ethic and empathy for others.
She hopes to attend Utah Valley University and major in social work or psychology.
Norm Coughlan, her school counselor, said Infanzon is a strong and resilient young woman with a deep desire to help others.
“She’s had a lot of experiences that other people haven’t had and been able to take that, internalize it and come up with something positive—which is her career,” said Coughlan.
Infanzon said despite her negative experiences, she is determined to be positive and to treat others well.
“It would make sense if she had an attitude and wasn’t as nice as she is,” said her boyfriend Joshua Anderson. “For her to be the kind and sweet person she is, even after everything she’s been through, I think that’s absolutely remarkable.”
He’s also impressed with her tenacity. Infanzon has maintained passing grades in all of her classes—including concurrent college enrollment classes—while actively participating in service activities, babysitting her cousins and working part time to help support her family.
“In 32 years, I’ve never met someone that has been able to look at things differently and turn it around, just turn it completely around,” said Coughlan. “She’s done more in the short amount of time that I’ve known her than 99 percent of the kids I know.”
The A.C.E. scholarships were funded by Dannon. In addition to the $500 scholarship, each student received a case of yogurt from the manufacturer.
“Partnership with the community is a very important piece for us,” said Geoff Dziuda, plant director at Dannon.
The Exchange Club chooses one of the four scholarship winners to move on to the state club, where they will be eligible for additional scholarship money. Craig Dearing, past president and club founder, said of the many applications they received this year, they were most impressed by Mikayla Infanzon’s.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in our club reading through it,” he said.