Brianna Adilene Toscano’s mom has always been her cheerleader.
“You can do it, mija, you’re fine, you’re just stressed,” Toscano said, imitating her mother’s words of encouragement. “Take some time off and you can do it.”
The 18-year-old Sunnyside High School student learned lessons of resilience from her mom. In seventh grade, Lucia Toscano, now 47, dropped out of school to help her mother financially support their family. Years later, she would migrate from Mexico to the Yakima Valley, where she now works in an apple orchard to support her three children.
Brianna Toscano is the youngest, with her brother and sister having graduated from high school as first-generation students before her. On Friday, she’ll join them as a graduate.
Growing up, Toscano said their family lived paycheck to paycheck, and she didn’t get to spend as much time with her mom as she would have liked because of Lucia’s grinding work hours.
At times, this turned into loneliness and plunged Toscano into depression, but she decided to take lessons in determination from her mom and poured her energy into school.
“I pushed myself to do good in school to make my mom happy, make her proud,” she said. “Everything I do is for her.”
In elementary and middle school, she tended to take leadership roles in group projects, challenging herself to learn as much as she could.
In her first year at Sunnyside High School, she channeled this hard work into her first Advanced Placement course in biology. Then she took AP calculus and European history, as well as college-level English.
Initially, she said, the transition appeared seamless, but over time the coursework grew harder and she would occasionally find herself overwhelmed.
“As I got into higher grades, it was like ‘Oh, the work’s getting hard,’” she said. “It does suck when my mom can’t help me or I can’t ask (her) for help, so I just kind of have to figure it out on my own. It’s really difficult, but I don’t blame her for that, it’s not her fault.”
While her mom continued helping her by pouring out encouragement, Toscano said Sunnyside Vice Principal Dave Martinez rallied behind her after they met during her freshman year, helping her navigate the school system and holding her accountable to meeting essay deadlines, for example. Toscano said he’s been a father figure she never had.
“He just always reminded me that I’m the definition of resilience. He always lets me know that,” she said. “He just pushes me to do better, and that makes me feel better because I’m like, ‘Wow, I can do so much better than I think. I need to stop being so negative on myself.’ And all I need is the extra support that I never had growing up.”
With Martinez’s support, Toscano said she learned how to ask for help — something she was too shy to do earlier. She began staying after school to ask teachers for clarification on assignments, reaching out for guidance on college and scholarship applications when the time came.
On Friday, she will graduate third in her class before going on to Eastern Washington University, where she hopes to study to become a school counselor so she can help other students with similar experiences. Toscano will go on from there to get a master’s in social work so she can work more directly with at-risk children.
She is the first in her family to attend college.
“Growing up, I always felt alone, and I feel like I could relate to a lot of kids (whose) parents aren’t always there,” she said. “It’s not like my mom intentionally left me to be by myself, but I know that there are kids that had it way worse than me and I just want to make a difference in their lives because it does get easier. I just think everyone needs someone they feel like they can count on, and that person to me was Mr. Martinez.”
But her biggest goal is to give back to her mom, Toscano said.