When Veronica Garcia graduates from Kennewick High School next month, her accomplishment will be bittersweet.
She knows she’ll be wishing her mom could be there to help her celebrate.
Her mom’s unexpected death the summer after her freshman year of high school could have crushed Veronica.
Instead, the Kennewick native became even more motivated to excel, impressing her teachers with her maturity and dedication.
She’ll be heading to Washington State University in Pullman in the fall to study physical therapy. The youngest of eight children is the second in her family to go to college and will be the first to earn a four-year degree.
“I know my mom really wanted us to get an education and do something with our lives,” Veronica said.
Veronica, 18, is paying for college on her own. She’s been able to get all but about $5,000 of her expenses covered and hopes to qualify for work study or to receive at least one of the scholarships for which she applied.
Losing her mom, Inez Garcia, was an unexpected blow for the close-knit family. Cynthia Perez, one of Veronica’s older sisters, said their 58-year-old mom worked up until the day of her death.
Their mom had heart complications for several years, but she received a pacemaker. They took her to Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland one day when she became ill.
When they left her at the hospital for an overnight stay, Veronica says her mom assured them she would be fine and reminded them to do the dishes and take care of their birds.
But at 2 a.m., a hospital employee called. By the time Veronica and her family got to the hospital, Inez Garcia already had died.
“She was the glue; she made us come together,” Perez said.
Veronica said her grief did affect her school work for a while. While missing her mom hasn’t gotten easier, she’s learned how to cope.
“Veronica just really excelled,” Perez said. “She knew that our mom always wanted the best for us.”
Losing her mom forced Veronica to grow up. She dealt with the loss of her mother without giving up on herself and school, challenges not everyone would be able to accomplish, said Debbie Roueche, Veronica’s leadership teacher at Kennewick High.
“Life is going to break you; it’s going to challenge you to the point of breaking you,” she said. “And those are the moments you find out who you are. It’s really incredible the direction that she chose and the person she is becoming.”
In addition to school, Veronica has participated in leadership, interned at Kennewick High’s Gesa Credit Union and has been active in a number of clubs, including Achieving Leadership for All Students Club, or ALAS. The club focuses on volunteering in elementary schools and putting on events like Cinco de Mayo.
She also works part time at JCPenney.
Veronica has an admirable work ethic and is always dependable, responsible and reliable, Roueche said. She’s bright and has a maturity unusual at her age.
She has so much potential, more than even she may realize, Roueche said.
“She has a dream, she has a drive, she has a goal,” she said.
Veronica stumbled on her dream of physical therapy by accident. She was trying to escape the pain of a PE class by taking sports medicine.
Instead, she discovered she was a natural at identifying body parts and determining how to treat injuries. She wants to someday to work with professional athletes.
Veronica says she likes to meet new people and learn their stories. Helping others gives her personal satisfaction.
Veronica is genuine and sometimes too caring, Perez said. She’s loyal and has kept close relationships with many of her friends growing up.
“She is the type of person that she will do what she can to help you,” she said.
But Veronica’s decision to leave the Tri-Cities for WSU Pullman came as a surprise to her family, Perez said.
“Nobody believed me,” Veronica said.
She’s nervous about leaving her family. She lives with her dad, José Garcia, and two of her seven siblings.
Still, “I have to do it for myself,” she said.
She will have some support. She’s been accepted into the College Assistance Migrant Program, or CAMP, a support network for students whose parents are migrant farmworkers.
“My family is always going to be there for me,” Veronica said.
And she plans to come back someday, she said.
Kennewick is home.