LaPrensa Article

A pair of graduating Latina seniors from Toledo Public Schools are tops academically in their high school class as commencement ceremonies approach.

Alicia Ochoa is the valedictorian for the Class of 2024 at Rogers High School, which will hold its graduation ceremony Tuesday, May 21, 7 p.m., at the Stranahan Theatre. Ms. Ochoa earned a 4.6 GPA while completing 17 advanced placement classes over four years of high school.

Melanie Espinoza will turn her tassel as the valedictorian of this year’s graduating class at Waite High School during commencement exercises Wednesday, May 29, 6 p.m., at the school’s fieldhouse.

Ms. Ochoa, the oldest of seven siblings, won’t even reach her 18th birthday until June, making her one of the youngest of this year’s Rogers graduates. Yet her mom credits her focus, work ethic, and dedication for her academic success. Ms. Ochoa worked at Kroger, stayed active in extracurricular activities, and helped with her younger brothers and sisters while keeping her grades at such a high level.

“I can’t even explain how proud I am,” said her mom Lindsey Talamante. “I wish I could take credit for any of it, but I can’t. She’s worked so hard. She sets a very good example for the younger ones and I couldn’t be more proud.”

“It feels good. It honestly feels great. I’m proud of what I’ve done,” said Ms. Ochoa. “I’m excited to see where I end up. It was hard, because I was told in August I would have to have all A’s on the quarter grades and exams to be valedictorian, so I had to make sure everything was in a row. It took a lot, talking to my teachers and all.”

This is Ms. Ochoa’s second experience as valedictorian. Her mom proudly points out she was tops in her eighth grade class—during the Covid-19 pandemic. But Ms. Ochoa only saw that as a challenge to meet.

“Getting that with Covid and all only made me want to try harder to see if I could do it in my high school years. To be able to do it, it’s really cool to see it,” said Ms. Ochoa. “I was stressed out at first, but I went through all my classes and knew what was expected of me by my teachers. I just took that, went home, and did what I had to do.”

“She’s worked hard so she doesn’t have to struggle in life. I’ve always preached that to her, ever since she was younger,” said Alicia’s mom. “You have to go to school. Yyou have to do good in school. I guess maybe that did stick.”

Her mom stated Ms. Ochoa always kept the right mindset, in her room doing homework every time she’d check on her. She even recalls asking her daughter “How does it feel, knowing that you can do anything you want in this world, the world is yours, whatever you want?”

“Having the people around me—my parents, my siblings, my friends, my teachers—actually pushes me to work harder,” said Ms. Ochoa. “It encourages me to do what I had to do to get to where I want to be. Their support helps to make it a little bit easier.”

In addition to her studies, Ms. Ochoa stayed active in school. She counts National Honor Scoiety, Junior Achievement, Leadership Toledo, student council, and yearbook staff among her extracurricular activities. She also belonged to SMART, a group of TPS high school students who got together to talk about how they could improve their schools.

Ms. Ochoa will attend the University of Toledo in the fall. While she’s undecided on a major right now, she intends to go into a STEM-related field. A biology class caught her interest her sophomore year, which led to interest in related chemistry and physics and other science classes. She also wants to stay close to home, to continue to set an example for her younger siblings.

“I know that the one I want to set for them is that they can do anything that they want to do, as long as they work hard,” said Ms. Ochoa. “I think right now I’m doing a pretty good job at it.”

Ms. Ochoa had applied and been accepted to other Ohio universities as well. Her guidance counselors kept track of all her scholarships, which totaled a whopping $853,640. That includes a president’s summit scholarship from the Latino Youth Summit, which covers room and board at UT, so she plans on living on campus her freshman year.

Ms. Ochoa credits a Latina teacher she had in middle school for helping her along the way, who continues to serve as a mentor whenever she needs it.

“Honestly, it helps a lot to be able to see that representation is important,” admitted Ms. Ochoa. “I think that actually helped me get a bond closer to her, just being able to relate to her when I was younger.”

In an era of school vouchers, TPS academies, and all the educational options she could have pursued, looking back, Ms. Ochoa is glad she made the choice to attend Rogers HS.

“Honestly, that’s the best choice I could have made. I love my school and the community that we have—my teachers, principals, and the friends I have made,” she said. “I’m extremely lucky that I have been able to do that.”