Saturday, October 24, 2020

Thank You, Danya Zarate You will be missed


 

 

Danya Zarate will graduate from Marco Island Academy (MIA) this year with a solid record of academic achievement. She is taking a weighted 5.05 GPA into her final semester and as of this writing has already been accepted by University of Florida and Florida State University. She is well liked by her classmates, a star on the athletic field, and an avid participant in student and community activities. In the four years that I have been writing about the remarkable students at MIA, I have come to know her better than most. Actually, I am in her debt. For Danya has taken great pains to assist me in reporting some of the stories about her school, stories which would have lost much of their luster without her.

Danya’s 2018 MIA yearbook picture. Submitted Photos

Danya’s 2018 MIA yearbook picture. Submitted Photos

For the past three years, I have been following Danya’s exploits on the overachieving MIA girls soccer team. Last year, I felt she was the best all-around athlete on the team. Last winter, during preparation for an article on MIA’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Club, I noted that she was the club secretary and sent her a long list of questions. I was astounded when, in the midst of state mandated testing, she sent back a thoughtful and erudite reply, taking me inside the club’s meetings and activities. It turned into a cute story. That was the first of many stories into which she helped breathe life. Her reply was so comprehensive and well done that I copied much of her work directly into the article. Danya told me that Mr. Scalia, her English teacher, did much to encourage and develop her writing abilities, despite the fact that Danya’s native language is Spanish, which, at her mother’s insistence, is spoken exclusively when she is at home.

Danya and Barry by Brianna Monroe

Danya and Barry by Brianna Monroe

In the fall of 2017, I sensed a breakout season for the Lady Rays soccer team. I was right. They finished with a 12-5-1 record and advanced to the semifinals of the district payoffs, losing in double overtime. Half of the games would be played on the mainland however, which I would be unable to attend.

Danya, age 6, with her parents.

Danya, age 6, with her parents.

Because of the bi-weekly publication of this paper and with a large number of games crammed into the two weeks before each publication, it required a great deal of finesse and cooperation to meet press deadlines. Danya, a four-year starter and one of the team’s stars, unfailingly provided both. Her keen insights, revealing analyses, and player interviews, made possible the complete and timely reporting of all the games. It was like I was actually at the games. The result was the complete and sometimes gripping chronicle of MIA’s most successful athletic team in its most successful season. I was proud to add her name to the bylines.

The Zarate Family. From left, standing: Melanie, Iran and Danya; Seated, parents Rosa and Filiberto.

The Zarate Family. From left, standing: Melanie, Iran and Danya; Seated, parents Rosa and Filiberto.

Danya is modest and self-effacing about her accomplishments, but a bulldog when it comes to finishing things she has started – and what a list of the things she has started. She has taken all the APHonors type courses which MIA offers. Last spring she received the prestigious “A” (highest) level AICE diploma (Advanced International Certificate of Education). Sponsored by Cambridge University in the UK. It offers college credit, and its diploma is recognized by all colleges as evidence of the superior accomplishments of high school students in the most rigorous classes available.

Lori Galiana, MIA’s award winning history and civics teacher has had Danya in a number of her AICE classes. Her Global Perspectives class is one of the most challenging classes at MIA. “It requires tremendous organization and self-discipline to be as successful as Danya has been in that class,” Galiana said, “Danya has always been willing to do anything that is asked of her. She is kind, thoughtful, and very intelligent. We are very proud of her.”

I am of course familiar with Danya’s participation in varsity sports at MIA, which includes soccer, cross country, track and volleyball. But it is her extra-curricular activities and service to others which truly sets her apart. Incidentally, I have never heard her use the pronouns “I” or “me” in our back-and-forths. On campus, she has been active in all of the student community service organizations including Key Club, Interact (sponsored by Rotary Club) and Student Leadership, which also plans for school functions, as well as STEM Club (see above), and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She has volunteered at soup kitchens in Immokalee, at the Physicians Regional Urgent Care Center and at Kiwanis and Rotary Club events. She pops up all over the island and at school with other student leaders. She is very much a part of the fabric of her communities.

A key to understanding where Danya might be headed can be found in her empathy and love of children. She has helped to organize and has participated in numerous events for kids, such as Santa’s Workshop, UNICEF Trick or Treat, and Spooktacular, to name only a few. At her church, she helps mentor a group of about 30 middle school students and teaches at summer vacation bible school. “I like kids,” she says, “and get along with them the best.” She wants to spend her life helping those kids, particularly the less fortunate, by becoming a pediatrician. She has applied to some of the most prestigious U.S. universities but had her heart set on the University of Florida, which has an outstanding premed program. An acceptance came in a few days before this writing.

“I have wanted to be a pediatrician since the 6th grade,” Danya said. It was then that she accompanied her injured infant sister to the pediatrician’s office. “Her injuries were pretty bad and my sister was badly frightened,” she said, “I wanted to see what the doctor could do.” While stitching the wounds and dulling the pain, the doctor had a noticeable calming effect on her frightened sister. Danya said, “I wanted to be able to do that.” Since that time she has never strayed from her goal.

Someday, Danya wants to have her own pediatric center and hopes to be able to offer low enough prices to help those who otherwise could not afford treatment. “I realize that’s easier said than done,” Danya said, “I really just want to help those in need.” Keith Scalia, her English teacher, may have added another dimension to Danya’s life when he introduced her to Doctors Without Borders. “I love their dedication and selflessness in their work,” Danya said, effectively encapsuling her approach to life, “After I finish school, it is definitely on my schedule to look into this.” She is intrigued at the thought of travelling to some of the less well developed Asian countries.

In her spare time, which speaking for myself, I have seen little evidence of, Danya says she loves watching movies, listening to music, reading, and watching sports. “I am [always] interested in [articles and books about] medicine, its ability to heal or treat illnesses, and the way the human body functions,” she hastens to add.

Danya is devoted to her family and gives much of the credit for her accomplishments to her parents, particularly her mother, who, Danya says, has made sure that she stays on path and has the opportunity to fully develop into the person she wants to be. Both parents work at several jobs, 24-7. (I was unable to arrange interviews because of this.) They do so, so that their daughters don’t have to work while in school and that there might be some money for college later on. “Mom has always insisted that our studies come first,” says Danya, “and that we also take time to pursue our extra-curricular interests.” Now that approach is paying off for Danya and her two sisters who are coming up through Marco Island Charter Middle School. “Over her four years here, Danya has truly blossomed into the best version of herself,” says MIA’s silver tongued principal, Melissa Scott, “She has embraced her culture, background, and herself. She is a beautiful butterfly, ready to flit and float herself into her beautiful future.”

Senior, Olivia Watt, a campus leader, has been best friends with Danya since the third grade. “[Danya] has never been one to brag or boast, yet she has an evergrowing list of bragworthy accomplishments,” says Watt, “She has a ‘strongbut soft air’ about her [which allows her to get things done] without saying much. She has her priorities all figured out and has shined at MIA.”

And so, I am about to lose a dear friend and colleague whom I have grown to love and admire. The school and community will also be the poorer for her loss. This is only a part of her compelling story. Someday, when the time is right, I would like to tell you the rest. Good luck Danya. I will miss you.

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