Hughson High Class of 2023 leaders Crawford, Brunetti and Lighthall reflect on quality of education, academic success

Sienna Crawford is the Hughson High School Class of 2023 valedictorian thanks to her 4.31 grade-point average. Brooklyn Brunetti and Joe Lighthall, each with a 4.22 GPA, are the salutatorians.

The graduation ceremony is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. at Husky Stadium. All members of the Class of 2023 will receive their diplomas then.

Crawford, Brunetti and Lighthall recently took time to answer some questions about their high school experiences.

Question: The Class of 2023's educational experience as freshmen and sophomores was disrupted because of the pandemic and a year of school held primarily via distance learning. How do you think that will shape you and your classmates?

**Crawford:**I think this taught us to be independent and resourceful. It was necessary to take on a greater role in guiding our own education. On the other hand, some students did not thrive in this environment and experienced a loss of education. Ultimately, it led to a greater division between better-performing and worse-performing students.

**Brunetti:**The pandemic has shaped my classmates’ and my learning like it has never done before. Not only were we limited to just virtual learning, but further, our entire lives outside of school became limited as well. Our social lives, our personal lives and our mentalities were all shaped by the pandemic as our usual face-to-face interactions were put on hold, and we were limited to a screen for an extended period of time. However, I feel that the pandemic has shaped our class to be more independent in our learning and has allowed us to discover what our true passions were as we were isolated from the usual school environment, and we were forced into an entire world of opportunity.

**Lighthall:**I think that it was a make-or-break experience; you either stepped up or checked out and that has created a wide disparity of academic achievement in our class. Teachers basically gave grades away for a year and some never adjusted back to the rigor of how school is supposed to be. When a class gets hard, many want to take an easier class instead of working harder to understand the material and figure it out. We’ve got to persevere through hard things if we want to get better at anything. For some, the pandemic took away the will to push through hard things and gave an excuse to achieve less than they otherwise could.

Q: What are the key things other students should know about your academic success and how you achieved it?

**Brunetti:**I really credit a lot of my academic success to those around me. I do not think I would be able to achieve any of my success without my support group, which includes my family, friends and God. Not only can academics be time-consuming, but they can be stressful as well. Having a great support group around you is the best way to achieve this success, as it is often overlooked.

**Lighthall:**I just get my work in on time and choose classes that challenge me. That doesn’t mean I dedicate my life to school; it just means I get done what needs to get done and put myself in a place of success.

**Crawford:**I achieved success by being present, paying attention and completing my work. Dedication is the key to academic success.

Q: How much time outside of regular class did you spend studying or doing homework?

**Lighthall:**Not much. I just got done what I needed to do in class. I use class time and downtime at school effectively so I don’t have to do a lot of homework.

**Crawford:**Outside of regular class, I typically spend about two hours doing homework. This number varies from 30 minutes to even six hours, depending on how many assignments are assigned or the events occurring throughout the day.

**Brunetti:**I spent about 10-15 hours a week outside of school doing homework and studying. Those hours varied with what classes I took and how much of a workload each class entailed. However, my priority was to balance my schoolwork and my personal life in order to be my best self.

Q: Which classes and/or teachers at Hughson High had the most influence on you?

**Crawford:**Every class and teacher influenced me in one way or another. I have never had a bad experience with any teacher at Hughson High, and I appreciate all their support and guidance. Teachers that were especially influential include Mr. Kroll, Mrs. Christianson, Mrs. Glavich, Mr. Bland and Mr. Castillo.

**Brunetti:**One of the most influential classes that I had ever taken was chemistry with Mr. Carvajal. His class not only taught me the basics of chemistry, but further, he incorporated life lessons into our everyday class in order to teach us valuable lessons. Mr. Carvajal was also a teacher who not only cared about his students’ school lives, but further, he truly cared about our lives outside of school as well. He was a great teacher to talk to about anything and I will forever be grateful for him and his class! And similarly, Mrs. Ruelas and her leadership class have also had a great influence on me. I had Mrs. Ruelas my freshman year for English and she motivated me to join leadership for my sophomore year. It was here where I was able to make long-lasting friendships and memories with my classmates while also improving our school in the process. I have learned what it takes to be a leader and how I can apply these qualities and lessons in my future. Mrs. Ruelas is a teacher who does not let her students go unnoticed. She will remember little things you tell her and she is always ready to lend an ear when you need one. She has influenced me to be the best person that I can be, and for that, I will always be grateful for her.

**Lighthall:**Coach Bernard has given me the opportunity to excel in the athletic field and I have formed a lifelong bond with him that I will never forget. I am so grateful that he came into my life. Without him, there are no Stanislaus County records, championship wins or most of the other stuff I’ve been able to do in track. Outside of my parents and faith, nothing has come close to the impact he has had on my life.

Q: How many Advanced Placement classes were you able to take? Were you challenged?

**Brunetti:**I took one AP class my sophomore year, two my junior year and four my senior year. I was definitely challenged in each one, but they all served an important role in shaping my learning abilities in retaining material as well as helping me obtain college credits in the process.

**Lighthall:**I took six AP classes and only two were really challenging. The classes aren’t that hard; they just have the term AP before the name of the class and people are scared of that. If you apply yourself and do what is asked, you’ll be fine.

**Crawford:**I was able to take 10 AP courses and two honors classes. I was definitely challenged by my AP classes. They required long hours of work due to extensive homework assignments.

Q: What kind of culture of learning exists in your home? What has that meant for your success in high school?

**Lighthall:**My mom home schools us for one year in middle school and we really learn to love learning during that time because we can learn anything we choose. That made learning fun for me because I got to choose the content and was excited to learn things at “school.” It also makes home a place of learning and education and not a place to escape from school. My parents are my heroes; they're amazing people and I won the genetic lottery being born into my home. It’s easy for me to thrive at whatever I choose and I get supported no matter what choices I make. They love each other and they love all seven of us kids. We know we are the priority and that gives us a lot of confidence in who we are and the choices we make.

**Crawford:**There is a very strong culture of learning in my home, and that has been a privilege for me. My mom is a former academic advisor and she guided me in which classes to take, and both my parents were usually available for guidance when I needed it.

**Brunetti:**In my home, I have a great support system between my parents that allows me to be as successful as I can be. My parents both have jobs that allow them to support me in different ways, and I have been motivated by their support to do my best work. They have played the greatest role in determining my success throughout high school.

Q: What should members of the community know about the quality of education at Hughson High?

**Crawford:**The quality of education at Hughson High is excellent. Most teachers are extremely dedicated and bright. A student at Hughson High can receive all the support they need to succeed.

**Brunetti:**The quality of education at Hughson High is impeccable. Through my experience, I have learned that the teachers, administrators and staff at Hughson High School truly care about each and every student, and the education that each student receives is top tier. I believe that every student is able to feel heard and seen, and their education is a reflection of that.

**Lighthall:**It’s fantastic here at Hughson High School. There are many teachers who care so much about you and want you to succeed. There are multiple AP and other classes that are offered to challenge us and they have amazing teachers. HHS has a lot of different electives that I believe anyone could find something that interests them.

Q: Outside of class, what kinds of teams, organizations or clubs are you involved in? How important are extracurricular activities in preparing you for college and beyond?

**Brunetti:**Outside of class, I am involved in a couple clubs including Key Club, California Scholarship Federation and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I also did cheerleading all four years of high school, while also coaching youth cheerleading during the fall as well. I am also part of the leadership on campus and have served as the ASB President for the 2022-23 school year. Further, I was dually enrolled at Modesto Junior College, completing my general education during high school. Each one of these extracurricular activities have helped me prepare for college and beyond as they all helped me learn the balance between academics and extracurriculars while also helping me develop a sense of collaborating with others. Further, I also feel that these extracurriculars have allowed me to meet so many new people, who have aided in preparing me for my future.

**Lighthall:**I have participated in soccer, cross country and track. I’ve committed to run track at BYU, so it’s been a big part of preparing me for college and beyond. Honestly, I’m not even sure I would go to a high school that didn’t have athletics; it's what makes the entire experience enjoyable. I did play the trumpet for two years, but athletics was taking up too much time to continue. HHS has so many extracurricular activities available that there is something for everyone. Students just have to jump in and engage in something that interests them and develop talents.

**Crawford:**Outside of class, I was on the cheerleading team that held practices every single day, sometimes including weekends. I was also involved in four clubs, held leadership positions in ASB and worked a part time job. Extracurricular activities are important in preparing for college because they teach time management, good work ethic and responsibility. These are skills that are necessary to be successful in college.

Q: What is the right balance for teens busy with school, teams or clubs, and even part-time jobs?

**Lighthall:**We have our entire lives to work so I focused on getting good grades, developing talents and doing things I enjoy. Sometimes it would’ve been nice to have some pocket money, but I would much rather focus on athletics, friends and things I enjoy before I no longer have the choice to focus on those things.

**Crawford:**I believe the right balance for teens can be different for each individual. Some may be able to manage their time more efficiently than others and can afford to balance more extracurricular activities along with school. Regardless, I think 50 percent of a teen’s time should be spent on school. The rest can be divided into extracurriculars, jobs and recreational activities.

**Brunetti:**I think that the right balance for teens with a busy schedule is to prioritize your mental health. Whether it is taking a break from your academics or social priorities, it is so important to make sure your mental

health is at its best. I also found that having a great support group around you can aid in finding the right balance between these commitments, as your support group can help you navigate these challenges.

Q: What are your college and career plans?

**Crawford:**I plan on obtaining a B.S. in biological science at Stanislaus State, and then applying to medical school. I want to become a medical doctor, then specialize in radiology.

**Brunetti:**After high school, I am planning to attend California State University, Fresno, where I will major in Pre-Health. I am hoping to obtain a bachelor's degree and continue my education in pursuing a master’s degree in speech pathology. I want to become a speech pathologist for elementary students where I will be able to assist those who are in need of speech therapy.

**Lighthall:**I plan to attend BYU and run track. I would like to be a college coach at some point and want to stay connected to the sport. I’m going to major in exercise physiology to help me reach my coaching goal.

Q: What themes are you going to talk about in your graduation speech?

**Brunetti:**My graduation speech touches on our unique experiences and how they can assist us in our future. Almost like a reflection of what we have done here, and how we can apply our individuality to shape our future.

**Lighthall:**I’m not attending graduation as it is the same night as the State track meet. Though I would love to get my diploma from my dad and be with my friends, I’ve worked too hard to skip the State meet. And it's not really that big of an accomplishment to graduate from high school. It’s a rite of passage to be sure and I wish it was on a different night, but I’m at peace with my decision.

**Crawford:**I am not speaking at graduation.