Skyline students overcome challenges on way to graduation

Pat Sutphin / Soon-to-be Skyline High School graduates Yuritza Vega, left, and McKay Rangel are seen here at the school. Vega moved to Idaho Falls from Ashton her freshman year. Starting her sophomore year at a new, larger school was a tough transition, but she’s since come a long way. Following an accident when he was 16 months old, Rangel had to relearn basic functions, including walking and talking. To him, an optimistic attitude can change everything. “I live to help others,” Rangel said.

At least 266 students will graduate from Skyline High School on June 3.

The high school’s 7 p.m. commencement ceremony will take place in the gymnasium. The following are profiles of two graduating seniors handpicked by school administrators.

McKay Rangel

Talking, walking and writing — basic functions most take for granted, are daily challenges for McKay Rangel.

At 16 months old, the now 18-year-old suffered a brain injury, caused by a lack of oxygen to his brain. It happened when McKay, in the care of a babysitter, made his way out a door left open at his sitter’s house to check out fish in the backyard pond. The youngster fell into the pond, hit his head and had no pulse, his mother Demaree Rangel said.

One of the babysitter’s children pulled McKay out and performed CPR, effectively saving his life.

Following the accident, McKay had to slowly relearn basic skills. He was left non-verbal, so his family had to teach him sign language in order to communicate. He also had to relearn a number of other essentials, including walking and eating.

Left to grapple with a tough reality, McKay’s family made a choice.

“We chose as a family not to let him be a bump on a log,” Demaree said. “We have not let him make excuses. Instead, we have made him stretch and made him want to progress. We never treated him any differently than the other kids.”

McKay is still relearning skills: He’s in speech therapy and he wears a leg brace to help him walk. But over time, he said he’s greatly improved. And as a student at Skyline, McKay is hardly down. Rather, most know him as the friendly student office aide with an infectious personality, often seen wearing a wide, inviting grin.

“I think it’s important to have a positive attitude about everything,” McKay said. “If you don’t have a positive attitude, no one would want to be around you. I like to make others feel good and happy.”

Immediately after graduation, McKay said he’ll be looking for summer work, possibly mowing lawns. As a career, he’d like to work as a seminary teacher. At times, his hardships are frustrating, but he has a simple philosophy.

“I just keep working until I get it,” he said. “I’m very motivated.”

Yuritza Vega

When Yuritza Vega moved to Idaho Falls from Ashton her freshman year, she was lonely, overwhelmed and missed home.

“It was a really rough transition,” she said. “I came from a small town and a small high school where I already knew everyone — we’d been friends my whole life. When I moved here, I didn’t have any friends at Skyline. I got really sick and I barely passed classes, it was really hard.”

Then, one trimester into her sophomore year, Vega made a change. The 18-year-old joined the school’s yearbook class on a whim. It was there she started making friends, enjoying Skyline and flourishing.

“When I started at Skyline I was like, ‘I hate Skyline, this is never going to be my school,’ ” she said. “Once I joined yearbook, and started interviewing students and things like that, I really learned to love it.”

Vega has since come a long way: This past year she served as editor of the yearbook.

Yearbook adviser Rebecca McGuyer said she’s seen a tremendous transformation in Vega during the past three years.

“The growth I’ve witnessed in her since her sophomore year is just amazing,” McGuyer said. “She’s got a lot of leadership, dedication and she’s one of those rare editors who can be both bossy and friendly at the same time. She’s got that little magic balance … students both like her and want to make her pleased with their work at the same time.”

After graduation, Vega plans to earn her cosmetology license. Eventually, she’d like to pursue a career in business and marketing. She advises others who may be struggling with a rough transition, or having a hard time fitting in, to find their niche as she did with yearbook class.

“Without a passion, you don’t have a lot to look forward to in life,” she said. “If you find your passion and discover who you are within, I think that’s a great thing. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, and always something to look forward to.”