Alyssa Parra will be the first in her family to graduate from high school, thanks to the life lessons she learned from her mom.
Her mother was 16 years old when Alyssa was born.
Alyssa knows her background can lead to assumptions, but she's spent her life proving them wrong.
Along with a 3.7 grade-point average, Alyssa will graduate from Pasco High School on Saturday as a captain of a state champion dance team, student government leader, honor society member and avid volunteer.
"I've taught myself to stay busy to stay out of trouble," the 18-year-old said.
Avoiding trouble was the mantra of her mother, Terri Gomez, who knew from her own mistakes as a teenager she needed to keep her daughter on track, Alyssa said. That philosophy strained their relationship at times, but Alyssa has come to understand and appreciate her mother's approach.
"Everything I do will reflect on me later," she said. "I want to do big things."
The relationship between Gomez and her high school boyfriend didn't last to Alyssa's first birthday. Gomez's early entrance to motherhood also affected her life choices. She eventually went to work in a food processing facility, though she most recently worked in the insurance industry.
"I realized I had to buy diapers and buy formula and feed this child and clothe this child," Gomez said. "My priority was not school after I had her, my priority was to make money to raise her."
Those experiences led to Alyssa having to follow lots of rules and heed warnings from a young age but especially after she entered middle school. Alyssa wasn't allowed to have her own cellphone or a Facebook profile. Romantic relationships also were taboo.
"She never told me not to date but you could tell that's what she wanted," Alyssa said. "She's just always told me to be careful."
Alyssa had personal motivations to succeed academically. She saw Pasco High's graduation as an eighth-grader and was in awe of the students in their caps and gowns moving on to the next chapter of their lives.
"I saw a few with the (honor) cords and all of the medals and I said, 'I want to be that,' " she recalled.
That drive has always been evident to Rebecca Schwan, Pasco High's dance team coach. Alyssa has always been very athletic, determined and hard working, Schwan said. She's been consistently voted "most inspirational" by her fellow team members.
"When we're doing the grunt work, when it's really tiring, she stayed positive," the coach said.
Alyssa's mom made her try out for the dance team. "I didn't want to do it but I fell in love with the program," the teen admitted.
Alyssa was on Pasco High's dance team her entire high school career and a captain the past three years. She's senior class treasurer and a member of National Honor Society.
She volunteers with the American Red Cross and helps with the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program and works once a week at Tri-City Ballet. Alyssa was in Pasco High's marching band for a few years and still helps at a summer music camp.
But adolescence had its temptations. She had a few boyfriends behind her mother's and stepfather's backs in middle school and high school. She bought a cellphone without their knowledge.
A romantic relationship during Alyssa's junior year caused her grades to slip. She broke down and told her parents about her past relationships, her cellphone, everything she'd been doing secretly.
"I didn't want to be that kind of example to my sisters and cousins and brothers," she said.
Alyssa gradually rebuilt her trust with her parents, she said, even earning a cellphone as a Christmas gift.
She plans to attend the University of Washington in the fall with a goal to study medicine and physical therapy.
And when she walks into Edgar Brown Stadium on Saturday with her fellow graduates, she'll be wearing her own collection of cords and medals.
"We're sad she's leaving but she's actually living her life for herself," her mother said.
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; email@example.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald