Meeting the mentor that shaped my life

Leadership isn't automatic. It takes time and effort

By Ariana Fabian | May | June 2020
I’ve lived in Hollister, the little town I call home, for as long as I can remember, yet I felt like a stranger in the village. I come from a low-income family who immigrated (legally) from a little town in Queretaro, Mexico, a few years before I was born. My parents struggled for the first few years while they settled in; after working the fields, they found somewhat stable employment at a winery. I spent most of my childhood on the streets, riding bikes and playing hide-and-seek. I entered kindergarten knowing only Spanish. We hadn’t been in the states long enough to completely understand English, so Spanish was spoken at home. The first few weeks were hard for me because I couldn’t understand what the teacher was saying. I was then switched to another class with a teacher who was able to speak Spanish, but things weren’t any different because she did not translate much. In my first year of school, I can definitely say that I learned a significant amount of English, but I didn’t quite meet the school’s academic requirements, so I was placed in summer school. Then, in third grade, I was tested for fluency in the English language and surprisingly I passed and was reclassified. From then on, I began to surpass the students in my class in reading, writing, and comprehension, even though English was not my native language. At the beginning of my education, I struggled not just with academics but behaviorally as well. I thought that if I hung out with the cool kids, my life would be better. I became friends with the “popular” kids, which ended up being the worst group of friends I’d ever have. At just 11 years old, they were into bullying other kids and marijuana. Although I didn’t do everything because I was afraid what my parents would think, I did join them in some mischief. Everything seemed to be going downhill. The only string holding me there was my outstanding academic record. My misbehavior thankfully ended in sixth grade, when I met one of my biggest mentors, my math teacher, Shari Vanderpool. She was able to oversee my struggles behaviorally and encouraged me to become a part of the Associated Student Body at our school. At first I thought, “Me? On student council? I don’t think so.” Little did I know that decision would influence what I would like to do for the rest of my life. I became Vice President of ASB, which brought me extremely close to my mentor/teacher, who was the only person at that time who saw my potential, and that’s all I needed: one person to tell me they believed in me. At school, I enjoyed taking ownership of my academics, but I also learned that academics weren’t the only path to success. I found myself in love with the hidden leadership skills I didn’t know I had. I now hold a leadership position on two councils and a club, and I take part in multiple leadership organizations, which actually led to another passion: helping out my community. For a long time, I wanted to pursue a career in medicine. Until sophomore year, I was hung up on being a cardiothoracic surgeon. But while working with the public health department to pass an ordinance restricting the sale of flavored tobacco and vape devices, I got a first-hand look at the legislative process. Through this project and participation on the Hollister City Youth Committee, I’ve become more involved in my community, which sparked my interest in public administration, and now this is the career path I’d like to pursue. After college, I hope to come back to my community and work to maintain responsible growth without taxing our resources. No longer the stranger in my town, I want to be one of its leaders.

Ariana Fabian is a student at San Benito High School in the San Benito Joint Union High School District

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Association of California School Administrators