Love of learning pays off for Prosser senior

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMay 29, 2013 

— Yasmin Ruvalcaba has always hungered for knowledge. The Prosser High School senior says she's enjoyed school since she first walked into a classroom and that her parents always have encouraged her and worked to help her succeed.

"My mother says when she'd read me a book (as a child) I'd immediately want to read it back to her," the 18-year-old said.

But Yasmin's parents could only do so much. The Mexican immigrants have an eighth-grade education and limited English, Yasmin said.

That didn't hold their oldest daughter back. She'll graduate near the top of her class with a 3.91 grade-point average Saturday and then head to Williams College in Massachusetts on a full-ride scholarship.

Her father, Rosalio Ruvalcaba, an apple orchard foreman, said his daughter always has worked hard but even he was shocked when she called him at work and told him the news.

"I was crying like a baby," he said. "I couldn't decide if I was happy or sad. I decided I was happy because she got her dream."

Yasmin credits her family and teachers for helping her along the way, but they all credit Yasmin's relentless pursuit of education.

"If one is looking for a great example of what individual ambition, backed by total support can do, this is the girl," Barbara Warriner, a Prosser High English teacher, said.

Yasmin, the oldest of four siblings, attended Prosser's gifted program at Whitstran Elementary and while her parents could help her with school work some of the time, often they couldn't. That became the case more often as she progressed, Yasmin said.

"Once I entered middle school, I didn't have them to turn to," she said.

It helped that Yasmin loves learning, but she found others to help her along the way. In grade school, substitute teacher Monica Burnett, who also attends Yasmin's church and works with Washington State University's GEAR UP! program, was a mentor; others, including Warriner, became big supporters.

"I didn't want to let people down," she said. "My dad would always tell me, 'I want you to work hard, I want you go to college.' "

Yasmin hasn't just kept busy with academics. She is on Prosser High's yearbook staff, in National Honor Society, senior class secretary, president of FCCLA and on Link Crew, a group that helps with freshmen orientation each year.

She assists her siblings with their schoolwork, and she and sister Denis have worked in the fields in the summer with their parents.

Warriner and Burnett said Yasmin's parents are very supportive of her education.

"Her folks want the best for their kids and make sure there is time to read, to be in clubs and to spend hours and hours studying and doing research in the library," Warriner said.

When it came time to apply for college, Yasmin relied on Burnett to help her find scholarships and check out schools.

Last summer, Williams College, a small, private liberal arts school in Williamstown, Mass., invited her to visit campus, all expenses paid, after she sent inquiries to different schools. The school has been rated by national media as one of the best places for undergraduate studies, beating out some Ivy League schools. Tuition and fees were almost $45,000 this past year, not including room and board.

"I loved it," Yasmin said of the visit. "It seemed like a really friendly community."

Weeks after the tour, she received another message from the school: it wanted to offer her a full-ride scholarship because of her academic standing and civic involvement. Yasmin will study political science and international relations with an eye toward attending law school.

"I had to reread (the college's offer letter) three different times," Yasmin said.

Yasmin's 16-year-old sister Denis, a sophomore at Prosser High, said it will be hard to not have Yasmin around to encourage her and help her with her classes. But she's inspired by her big sister.

"I think she just wants to play a bigger part (in the world)," Denis said.

Burnett said she is excited to see what comes next and is not surprised at Yasmin's success.

"That's why she got the full ride. She's the whole package," Burnett said.

w Ty Beaver: 582-1402;; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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