Academics » Senior Success Stories

Senior Success Stories

We are so proud of the students in the Class of 2023! Check out a few stories of graduating seniors from our three high schools in West Valley School District - Dishman Hills High School, Spokane Valley High School and West Valley High School. 


Lilly Compton didn’t enjoy her school environment in early high school. She traveled between family members in Spokane and Vancouver (Wash.), and when Covid hit, she said it was the last straw. 

“I didn’t see the point in school anymore,” she shared. “I wasn’t learning anything, and it felt like a glorified daycare.”

When she moved to Spokane with her dad and brother in the fall of 2021, she knew that her transcript didn’t look so good and there was little chance she could graduate on time. Self-described as a quiet kid who was frightened to speak out, Lilly was prepared up front to graduate a year late. 

But Spokane Valley High School took a chance on her, Lilly said. SVHS school counselor Elise Barlow and other staff saw potential in Lilly and convinced her to join leadership at the school. Once terrified by the thought of rejection when speaking in public, she now considers leadership one of her favorite classes because of the safe environment where she feels comfortable being herself. 

“There have been many moments in Lilly’s life that would cause most students her age to give up, but Lilly has done the opposite,” Elise said. “Her grit and resilience has definitely helped her achieve this.”

While she originally started in the Endeavor program, Lilly transferred to the Academy program this year so that she could work her schedule in order to graduate on time. She plans to attend Eastern Washington University in the fall and explore classes in the realm of marketing where she can combine her love for writing and art. 

Lilly credits SVHS with teaching her a lot of soft skills and improving her communication. And while she always thought she had the opposite of a green thumb, her horticulture classes have perked her interest so that she and her dad are currently building a greenhouse.

“I’ve never gone to a school where I’ve truly felt seen,” Lilly said. “I enjoy interacting with adults who treat me as an equal and make me feel like I am important.”

She said that the relationships are what have truly made an impact. SVHS staff echo this sentiment.

“In my ten years of being an educator, I have not met anyone like Lilly,” Elise said. “Her humbleness, kindness and respect for all she meets is a breath of fresh air.”

AaronAaron Schmidt simply wants to leave a positive mark on the places he’s been. With over 20 moves during his childhood, he didn’t always have much time to do so.

His family jumped from town to town while he was growing up, and he ended up enrolled in 10 different schools in various districts throughout the Northwest. He describes his childhood as tumultuous, with an older sister helping to raise him. One of his siblings attempted suicide for the first time when Aaron was in middle school, and it tore his family apart. While he was having mental health struggles of his own, Aaron used the adversity in his life to develop an attitude of focusing on the positive and helping others. 

Dishman Hills High School is his tenth school (after stints at schools in Mead, Cusick and East Valley districts), but he spent time in and out of WVSD over the years. Aaron said the impressions made by various teachers in West Valley schools was remarkable. 

In fact, he still remembers a sign that Jodi Vessels had in her classroom at Ness that stated the golden rule. And the philosophy of treating others the way you want to be treated has stuck. 

“Every single time I stepped into her classroom, I noticed that sign,” he said. 

And that’s what he attempted to do ever since. Aaron spent his junior year in Cusick where he was honored with the Mason Award for his volunteer work at the local food band. He served there every Wednesday and learned about the different situations people find themselves in.

“A lot of people I served were veterans,” he said. “Having that person-to-person contact gave me a sense of fulfillment.”

He carries this desire to his job at the Papa Murphy’s store at Sprague and Argonne. He loves seeing his past teachers and asking the regulars how their days are going. 

Aaron eventually became an emancipated minor and now lives with his grandparents who he happily helps care for and drives to their various appointments. This in addition to being a student and working a full schedule at Papa Murphy’s.

He credits his mentor teacher, Gabe Rose, with helping him figure out credits and a plan to attend Hult International School of Business in Boston this fall. Gabe said that Aaron has an unrivaled work ethic and he’s enjoyed watching him flourish during his time at DHHS.

“Once Aaron sets his mind to a task, he won’t rest until it’s finished,” he said. “While working through his own life difficulties as well as his course work, he was able to iron out his passions and narrow his focus. I look forward to seeing his business dreams unfold in the years to come.”

Aaron’s goal is to run a tech startup and nonprofit to make resources more readily available to youth. While he is a bit nervous to embark on his college journey - the furthest he’s traveled is Idaho - he is excited to see the world and use his intelligence to help others. 

“I just want to leave a lasting impression on the world,” Aaron said.

BraydenPatience and preparation are two characteristics that have served Brayden Gentry well in his high school career, and he’s looking forward to taking it to the next level when he serves in the U.S. Navy. 

Brayden grew up in Alaska where he was constantly hunting and fishing and playing sports. His time outdoors in the Alaskan wilderness rooted him in an active lifestyle and sparked an interest in a career where he could be on-the-go. 

When Brayden’s family moved to the Spokane area at the beginning of his junior year, he hit the ground running in connecting with his new classmates and teachers. He described his experience at West Valley High School different than his previous school in that he had real conversations with staff. Mr. Quirk discussed March Madness college basketball with him, and he enjoyed just chatting with Ms. LaChance and Ms. Honey.

“The teachers at WVHS were more interactive than I had previously,” he shared. “They’re more relatable and not just trying to teach you the curriculum.”

Brayden said a Marines recruiter sold him on the idea of joining the military since they’re often outdoors and constantly doing something. But when he was disqualified from the Marines based on a past shoulder injury, he didn’t give up. He persisted by going to the Navy recruiting office and explaining what happened. He performed the necessary screening and testing and was accepted to be part of that military branch. 

During his short time at WVHS, Brayden has become part of the National Honor Society as well as vice president of his senior class. But baseball is the area Brayden feels has best prepared him most for the next step in life. He describes the sport as a mental game where you have to be patient and focused and prepared for every single pitch, a parallel he ties to his future career.

“In the military, sometimes you’ll just be sitting there waiting when there are no conflicts going on,” he explained. “But there is still training in order to be prepared at all times.”

Brayden values the relationships he has with his teammates, which he refers to as “the brotherhood,” and feels like it is a taste of what he hopes to experience in The Navy. Cory Aitken, WVHS baseball coach, agreed that baseball mirrors the military in that members need to rely on one another to do their jobs and be team players. They also both build character.

“Baseball is a game of failure and teaches athletes how to press through those failures,” Cory said. “The ability to press forward and control what you can control will be a vital attribute while he is in the military.” 

Before he starts basic training and receives a ship date, Brayden is going on a trip to Japan with his sister. Although he admits to being a little nervous about his first year in the military, he can’t wait to see the world.

“I want to travel and experience different cultures and make myself better in the process.”

RubiRubi Melendrez has always had a heart to help others. With a teachable spirit and open mindset, she’s adapted to changes and used each opportunity to widen her perspective. 

Adopted alongside her two younger siblings when she was very young, Rubi lived in Arizona through fourth grade when their family moved to Mexico. During these formative years, Rubi made it a point to serve others and was student body president of her school. She also volunteered at her church and as a leader with Young Life, in addition to handing out food and medical supplies to migrants traveling through her area.

Health reasons caused her family to move to the Spokane area at the start of her junior year. She felt a little lost during those first few weeks at West Valley High School and had to get a feel for the culture and people.

“This was a big school for me, so I just made sure to sit next to people who looked approachable during class and lunch,” Rubi said. “When I first arrived, I had no clue about U.S. history so I was lucky enough to have a really good teacher who helped me a lot.”

She was also fortunate to find nice friends who were accepting and curious about her life. Rubi said GEAR UP coordinator Rosalie Sigler helped her through the transition. Rosalie worked alongside Rubi to figure out her GPA and suggested groups she could get involved with.

“Moving back to the states would be difficult at any given time, but to return during the pandemic would have been especially difficult,” Rosalie said. “I noticed that Rubi would eat lunch in the library initially, but now I see her eating with friends in the commons and taking advantage of the opportunities she has.”

The majority of services offered by GEAR UP require students to take the initiative to participate, and Rosalie said that Rubi was a regular attendee, signing up for college visits and student workshops in addition to checking in often about applications, scholarships and financial aid. 

“Rubi has the wherewithal and confidence to ask for help and mentorship, and I am excited to see everything she accomplishes,” Rosalie said. “Plus she is one of the kindest students I have had the pleasure of working with.”

Since coming to WVHS, Rubi has gotten involved with the leadership group, participated with the LINK crew and even joined the tennis team. Rubi said her experience at WVHS has made her realize that all of the school - students and staff - are part of one group and that it’s important that everyone is involved and nobody is excluded. 

"At West Valley I've learned to look at things from different views in order to understand the whole," she said.

Rubi plans to attend Eastern Washington University to major in business and minor in languages. Since she is already fluent in English and Spanish - and represented WVHS as a Spokane Scholar in World Languages - she would also like to add an Asian language to her repertoire. 

Before moving on to college, Rubi has advice for students just starting their high school career: “Don’t be afraid. Join as many clubs or activities as you can. Just be crazy and put yourself out there. And always be kind.”

KimaniDedication and drive are two common themes woven throughout Kimani Mugo’s story. While he constantly pushes himself to be present and focus on the tasks at hand, he also realizes that it takes the help and support of others to get a job done.

A long snapper on the West Valley High School football team, Kimani Mugo used Twitter to get recruited by college football programs. Kimani was offered a full-ride scholarship to play football at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., along with friend and WVHS quarterback Raesean Eaton. The fact that Lincoln is a historically black college/university (HBCU) really sold him, and he’s looking forward to starting football workouts in mid-July.

“Being a student athlete, consistency is a big thing especially with football,” Kimani said. “I’m just excited to be in a new environment and see how I can stand on my own two feet.” 

Kimani was born in California and spent a bulk of his childhood there until his family moved to Spokane during his fifth grade year. When he was a little kid, Kimani remembers going to a skate park every day with friends to ride scooters. He has considered starting his own scooter shop after college and bringing it full circle. 

“I have dreams to start my own business and then pass it down to my kids or someone in the family,” he said. “I would like to set up a stream of revenue to help out my mom and her family.”

His family has had their share of adversity. An older brother whom Kimani described as “a very loved individual” passed away in an accident three years ago. The West Valley community rallied to help their family in a time of need, he said, and those connections are what he’ll remember.

He’ll miss chilling with his classmates and Ms. Honey, his mentor teacher. His track coach, Vic Wallis, always had high expectations and pushed Kimani to do his best in the high jump. And he said he will always remember the joy that Mr. Nelson brought to his day as he seemed genuinely excited to be teaching students. 

Culinary teacher Mrs. Dalke is one of Kimani’s favorites because of the energy and hype she brings to the classroom. He took a class from her his freshman year and now has her for sixth period his senior year.

“I come in at random times, and she always slides me food and gives me the tea,” Kimani said. “I’m glad to be retiring with her.” 

Mrs. Dalke said Kimani always has a smile on his face, has a positive attitude and is willing to speak up for a group. He has natural leadership abilities and steps up to the plate when things need to get done. 

“Kimani is friendly and personable and gets along with everyone,” Lesley explained. “He is a people magnet who can work with anyone.”

Besides being on the football and track teams, Kimani serves as class president and works at Papa Murphy’s Pizza. He has a philosophy of staying busy, as he says people get lost in their boredom. He especially encourages high school students to stay focused as grades matter. 

“High school is an outlet to the rest of your life,” he shared, “so you need to stay dedicated and do it well.”