July 12, 2021
ESS 2021: Student discovers her inner strength after mother passes away from cancer
Consuelo Vidal-Perez Grade: 12 School: Watsonville High School District: Pajaro Valley USD ACSA region: 10
Consuelo Vidal-Perez entered high school with a drive to learn and succeed academically.
But when her mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer, she had to develop resilience. While her mother was in hospice, Consuelo worked with counselors who helped her process her fear and grief. Throughout her painful experience, Consuelo continued with rigorous courses and competitive sports. She never missed a day of school, including the day her mother died. Consuelo has discovered her inner strength and has used what she learned to help other students experiencing crisis.
What does it mean to win the ACSA Every Student Succeeding award? Being able to win this award, it means so much. In a way, it kind of shows how I could persevere through grief. And it’s not just gone in vain but also it kind of demonstrates how other students can do it as well. And I think to me, that’s the biggest thing that I can show other students that they can do it too.
Your mother passed away when you were 15 years old from cancer. How did that impact your life throughout your high school experience? It was really difficult for me. My mother was absolutely everything to me. She was my best friend. I did absolutely everything with her. During my lunch, I would go with her instead of staying on campus because she’s my mom. Having lost her, it was really difficult for me because it felt like my world had turned upside down. I never expected my mom to pass away at such a young age. I always thought she was going to grow old with my dad. Up until her last days, she was my biggest supporter. She was my biggest motivator. And she still is. She still gives me that strength that I need to go on every single day. And not only that, but she still gives me the strength to show my little brother to keep going on.
You had to take on a motherly role for your little brother after the passing of your mother. How has that experience been for you? It really hasn’t been a burden of any kind. If anything, I see it as a blessing in a way. It gives me the opportunity to see him grow up and see him become the person that my mom would have loved to see. It just kind of happened naturally. I guess it was my desire to be there for him and to guide him the way my mom guided me when I was that age. At the same time, it has made my bond with my little brother way stronger than it was before. It’s a complete blessing being able to be there for him when he needs me. Just knowing that he’s becoming the person that my mom would have loved to see is the biggest blessing I could have asked for.
What impact did COVID-19 and distance learning have on your grieving process? School for me was really important in how I would get my mind off things and distract myself. When we had to transition into distance learning, the house itself felt more lonely because my mom wasn’t here, so it was feeling sad. We have pictures set all around the house of my mom. And staring at them would be so difficult. It just wasn’t the same. I feel like the pandemic made me confront my grief. So, it was kind of difficult at the beginning and then as time progressed, I kind of got more used to it. And it helped me come to terms with everything that happened.
You’ve been part of the AVID program at Watsonville High School. How has your school community been supportive of you and your family? If it weren’t for my school and it weren’t for the community, I probably wouldn’t be at the place that I am in my life. I feel like they helped me so much. Both my AVID class and my track team, they created this safe space for me where I could go and just be myself and not think about everything else that was going on. Everyone at my school was always so understanding of what was going on. They were always there for me when I needed somebody. They all motivated me to keep going and pushing through. My hurdles team was always telling me, ‘There isn’t anything in life you can’t hurdle over.’ They knew that I could keep going on even when I didn’t think so myself. The school community has been such a big part of me not giving up.
You’ve really taken on the role of an inspirational leader at Watsonville High. Where does the motivation come from and how do you think it will help you continue to grow as a person? The motivation itself to be somebody, to be a leader, to inspire others, it really comes from my mom. She always told me that sometimes you just need to go out in life and do what you need to do. She always said that I was a leader and she always told me that I could do big things. The motivation to become this person that can inspire others and help others, it truly comes from my mom.
How would your mother feel to know you won the ACSA Every Student Succeeding award? I think my mom would be so proud of me. Every time that I won a race or I was given an award at school, she would always come to me with such a big smile and she would say, ‘I knew you could do it.’ I feel like if my mom was here, she would give me a hug and tell me that I did it and I deserve it.
Consuelo Vidal-Perez, at right, with her mother, who passed away when Consuelo was just 15.
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