WHITE SWAN, Wash. — As one of White Swan High School's top cross-country runners and a basketball player since fourth grade, Kiana Castilleja knows what it's like to be in the spotlight.
She made six state appearances and won several awards in cross-country and track.
But Castilleja, the daughter of Rachel and Steve Castilleja of Harrah, also knows what it's like to work behind the scenes.
Castilleja joined several seniors who volunteered to pick up trash after volleyball and basketball games this year, an initiative inspired by her leadership class, taught by White Swan's athletic director, Marcy Sanchez.
Sanchez went to high school with Steve Castilleja and has known Kiana, 17, since she was in kindergarten.
Sanchez worked with Kiana on a color run and a movie night and penny drive, both to raise money for Children's Wishes & Dreams. Kiana also organized Operation Gratitude to collect donations for troops overseas. Her dad served in the Marines, Sanchez said.
"She's a quiet leader. She's not going to be the one who steps out of the box and speaks out about everything," Sanchez said of Castilleja, who had one of the top five grade-point averages in her class.
Castilleja and the other seniors who picked up trash after games were honored with the White Swan Athletic Department leadership and citizenship award during a virtual senior banquet.
This summer, she'll begin studying business administration at Perry Technical Institute. Online classes start June 24.
"Graduation was supposed to be today," she said in an interview Thursday, June 4. The novel coronavirus pandemic has prompted countless school officials throughout the United States to scuttle plans made months ago, disappointing graduates and parents everywhere.
In the Yakima Valley, schools have opted for drive-by and drive-up ceremonies so students can accept their diplomas with a little personal pomp and circumstance. White Swan graduates will receive their diplomas Friday, June 12, when teachers plan to visit every graduate's home between 3 and 7 p.m., Sanchez said.
"The plan at this point is teachers are going to caravan behind a school vehicle — start with one graduate" and create a longer line of vehicles after every stop at a student's house, she said. "Hopefully it will make a large parade by the end."
Parents are planning their own parade at 7:30 p.m., Sanchez said. The Mount Adams School District also created a senior recognition video to honor their academics, athletics and extracurricular participation.
It still saddens Castilleja that her class of 46 can't graduate together. It's a close group; a number of them started together in preschool. And many have enjoyed great support from their teachers at White Swan.
Because class sizes are small, teachers can provide personal attention to individual students, Castilleja said. "They build relationships with you."
Consider, for instance, Marisa Owen, who teaches math. "She's just really bubbly. My class tends to talk a lot. She has patience with us," Castilleja said.
And English teacher Kristin Trease, always happy to loan books to students. Castilleja is reading "All the Bright Places" by Jennifer Niven and last fall read "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas.
"I asked Ms. Trease if I could read it and she said, 'I encourage you to read it. It's a great book,'" she said.
Though Castilleja will tell you she likes numbers, she also enjoys writing — so much so that she took Tom Sheppard's essay-writing class twice. She needed another English class so she decided to take it again.
"He's super involved in getting individual students to learn," she said. "He's good at giving them examples they'll understand."
Sheppard directed students to choose the topic of a final essay. With the pandemic so completely upending traditional celebrations and other precious human interaction, Castilleja wrote "What I’m Missing" to sum up her own experience.
"The most important thing I will miss out on, is high school graduation. I’ve attended a good amount of graduations here and last year I remember sitting with my friends on the old wood bleachers and saying, 'I can’t believe that’s going to be us a year from now,'" she wrote.
"I always admired watching grads hand out their roses every year. I was always thinking and planning on who I was going to give mine to because to me it means a lot to get a rose. I think it symbolizes appreciation in the best way possible. I just really wanted to have the opportunity to not only say it in words but to present it in this way. I wanted that."
Castilleja and her fellow seniors will also miss their annual trip; they've been fundraising all year. The money might go toward a statue of their school mascot, the cougar. They are getting estimates, she said.
"We had $8,000 in our account. We're trying to figure out what to do," she said.