If you ever needed proof that you are who your friends are, look no further than the two valedictorians and four salutatorians of Dominguez High School’s Class of 2016.
Friends since their days at Kelly Elementary School and Roosevelt Middle School, the high-achieving girls have all supported each other on their path to college.
Valedictorian Nancy Rivas and salutatorian Daina Espinoza will attend UC Irvine this fall.
Fellow valedictorian Jannet Gomez will join salutatorians Yenifer Espitia, and Kimberly Fernandez at UCLA. Salutatorian Elizabeth Perez Gayosso will attend UC Merced.
The high-achieving girls all said their journey to college would not have been possible without the encouragement they received from their teachers and hard-working immigrant families.
Dominguez High’s four salutatorians and two valedictorians meet with their counselor Cynthia Washington in between class periods.
“We inspire each other and make sure we’re all on the same track. Some of us are better at certain subjects than others, so we’ll look to that person for help. I’m always ready to be there for my friends,” said Valedictorian Nancy Rivas.
“There were times when we almost got B’s in some of our classes, but we worked together to pull our grades up.”
Nancy said she hopes to one day motivate Compton students in the same way.
“I want to come back counsel kids and point them in the right direction so they can be educated,” she said.
“There are people out there who think we can’t achieve anything because we come from Compton. It doesn’t matter where you come from because you need perseverance and dedication to overcome challenges.”
Salutatorian Daina Espinoza said she and her longtime friends challenged each other to work hard. She credits their competitive spirit with motivating her to reach her college goal of studying psychology.
“AP courses are the most stressful. I remember in 10th grade I took my first class and I was so stressed out, and now I’m taking three including AP calculus, literature, and government,” she said.
“It’s hard to do everything we’ve done, but we knew what we wanted.”
Daina knows her hard work has been worth it.
“I come from parents who had little to no education. They’ve always told me to value my education, and I’ve made it a priority. I see how my sister has graduated from a four-year university and know I want to be like her when I grow up.”
“If I don’t understand something I know one of them will help me. We’re always there for each other,” she said.
Now the salutatorian’s focus turns to one day working in the tech industry.
“There aren’t a lot of females in the tech field. I want to go in and make the field more diverse,” she said.
“Last year I spent seven weeks at Google through Girls Who Code. I was sad to see that the only Hispanics were the janitors working there, and hardly any women.”
Elizabeth said she also hopes to give back to Compton schools by teaching students how to code.
“I think about returning to Dominguez High School to teach computer science,” she said.
She added that because her family and many others work hard to support their families, the least she can do is empower future generations with the skills needed to succeed.
“My parents always struggled. Now I have a chance to earn a stable living once I graduate from college. It’s only right that help others to do the same,” she said.
“As soon as I get my degree in political science I’m going to law school. I want to be a judge one day and serve in Compton,” she said.
“I feel I understand the city and the people better, and rather than be harsh, I want to help people change their lives for the better. Instead of giving jail time for a small crime, I can order counseling so people can get the help they need.”
For Jannet, her fellow college-bound friends in the Dominguez Six and her family are undoubtedly the greatest motivators in her life.
“My friends and I all come from similar backgrounds. Just seeing the way they turned out, I see that just like me they are putting in double the effort so they can be something great in life,” she said.
“I’m the youngest in my family, so I’ve seen how my two my older sisters went to college. I’ve seen how my parents work so hard to make sure I have everything I need to succeed. That’s why my dad tells me to do everything they do, but better.”
The salutatorian credits her role as older sister to her two younger brothers as one of the reasons why she strives for academic excellence.
“I feel that since I’m the oldest of three children, I have to be a role model. I have to have high standards so they can follow in my footsteps,” she said.
Yenifer said her parents, who both work in factories, are also a driving force as she looks forward to majoring in biology at UCLA.
“My parents are my biggest inspiration. They pushed me and told me education is important,” she said.
Yenifer said Compton Unified teachers and staff were just as instrumental in pushing her friends to become college-bound.
“In school, all of our teachers have been really helpful. And, people like our counselor Cynthia Washington have reminded us of how important it is to get an education,” she said.
“It’s the only thing we can keep and no one can take away. It’s important for others to have the same mentality.”
Yenifer said she and her friends share the same attitude about their education.
“Most of us have been together since elementary school…we’ve been each other’s support system outside of the home. Now we’re seeing our hard work paying off.”
For the salutatorian, it’s a big step that is sure to make her family proud.
“My mom works at a factory and my dad works as a janitor for a company. They both work very hard, so it means a lot to know I’m going to college,” she said. “My mom has really encouraged me to do my best in school. She’s been my rock.”
But without a doubt, Kimberly knows her friendship with Jannet, Yenifer, Nancy, Daina, and Elizabeth played a big part in her academic success.
“My friends were the ones who really pushed me whenever I lacked confidence in myself. I am thankful to have people like them,” she said.