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Davis High School graduate Citlalli Cruz poses for a portrait with a class of 2020 sign on Thursday, May 28, 2020 in Yakima, Wash.

Citlalli Cruz believes that if she has a complaint, she should also have a solution. She’s also a self-described people person.

Early in high school, she noticed that her graduating class lacked the level of school spirit she saw among upperclassmen. Her peers didn’t feel like they belonged, or that they were truly part of the school. So ahead of her junior year at Davis High School, she ran for Associated Student Body class president and won. The next year, she led ASB for the whole school.

During those two years, she said her ASB team began intentionally tailoring efforts to capture more students. Since a lot of students are low income, she said, they encouraged low-cost or recycled school spirit approaches to avoid excluding people. Activities often included prizes, to incentivize participation. They regularly asked students to submit their own photos of school life, so they saw themselves reflected in student body efforts. At school assemblies, ASB stopped asking individuals to compete in games in front of the student body, which would leave those who weren’t friends with them disinterested, Cruz said. Instead, they had the entire class compete in games to rally participation.

Cruz, now 18, said she saw student engagement grow on campus in those years.

Cruz has always been engaged in school. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in their late teens.

“Going through school, they always encouraged me, ‘You can do really well in school. You can do all these great things,’” she said. “I was like, ‘School is for me. I can do something with it.’”

By middle school, she was involved in school sports such as track and softball. Around that time, she joined the Technology Student Association, where she held positions of office in both middle school and high school. She got good grades, and created a network of peers and teachers to help her navigate complicated college applications and scholarships.

In her final years of high school, she was a full-load International Baccalaureate student. She finished her senior year by earning a seal of bi-literacy in Spanish; graduated in the top 10% of the state, among other honors; and received direct admission to the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. There, she plans to pursue a career in marketing, to marry her passion for people and problem solving.

One of Cruz’s favorite experiences from her senior year was a campaign to raise money for people experiencing homelessness through the IB program. At the end, the group prepared a meal and served it to people at Camp Hope, where they were able to talk with them and hear their stories.

Another highlight has been treasuring final moments with her family before she moves to Seattle. Cruz is the oldest of three girls. Her younger sisters are 5 and 1, and she often babysits them between her school and extracurricular obligations. Her grandma helped raise her, she said, because her parents have always worked a lot. The weekends are their time to bond together.

This year, her parents drove her to meetings in Seattle for Young Executives of Color program meetings through UW, where Cruz discovered her interest in marketing.

““My mom and my dad made the sacrifice to drive me over. So being a part of that was a family effort,” she said.

As a first-generation college student, she said she sees her coming years as a family effort too, as she models attending college for her sisters.

“My sisters are going to follow in example and have something to look up to, because I didn’t have something to look up to going into higher education, so I want to be that role model for them,” she said.

Cruz plans to pick cherries this summer to save up for college and help her family before leaving for college. She said she is a bit nervous about the leap to college, away from her family and the community she has built up in Yakima over her grade school years.

“It’s also exciting,” she added. “New experiences are new lessons, and there are a bunch of new things we’re going to learn in regard to people we know, how we interact with people, but also education-wise.”

Reach Janelle Retka at jretka@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @janelleretka