A passion and a plan for Clark County grads

Some high school seniors already have their futures mapped out




-- Camas student builds a boat for senior project.

-- Our annual list of graduation ceremonies.

La Center High School senior Justin Kempf in his father's 1946 Commonwealth Sky Ranger 185.

— Camas student builds a boat for senior project.

— Our annual list of graduation ceremonies.

Ah, high school — a time when you get to try out different personalities, explore potential career paths and slowly grow into yourself.

Many look back on their late teens as a transition, a jumping-off point from carefree youth to responsible adulthood. And let’s face it — quite a few who later found success showed few signs of maturity when they donned their first cap and gown.

But some high school students know exactly what they want, and have known it for a long time. They found their calling and are working toward making it happen.

Out of the many in Clark County who fit that description, here are a few examples.

Luke Johnson

His passion: medicine.

His plan: become a doctor.

In eighth grade, Luke Johnson made some ill-advised decisions. All he wants to say about them now is that he “had a bad experience.”

It made him think about what he wants to do with his future, what he would most enjoy doing.

The conclusion he came to was that he likes helping people. He’s used to doing that at home.

Both of Johnson’s parents are deaf. He knew how to sign before he knew how to speak. Johnson and his brother grew up translating for their parents in public settings.

Johnson also enjoys science. A biology teacher in his freshman year at Hudson’s Bay pointed out that the medical field would be a natural fit for his plans and talents.

Ever since, Johnson has been determined to become a doctor. The desired specialty has changed — from psychiatry to cardiology — but the desire itself has not. Johnson has taken Advanced Placement classes in math and science for the past four years. His hard work paid off when he was accepted into the University of Washington.

He’s also been in touch with Dr. Scott Stuart, a physician in Seattle. Stuart, who’s related to Johnson’s counselor, Elizabeth Webber-Mikaele, has been a mentor to the 18-year-old and guided him to an internship at Evergreen Hospital Medical Center.

Johnson’s friends understand he’s busy and that he tries to make time for them.

But he’s worried about the toll his workload has taken on being connected with his family. That’s one reason why he plans to move back to the Vancouver area once he’s a doctor.

“I’ll come back and spend time with my brother and my parents,” Johnson said. “That’s a main goal for me.”

Micah Lewis

His passion: music.

His plan: become a studio musician.

Micah Lewis picked up the trombone in fifth grade, albeit somewhat reluctantly.

“It didn’t feel right at first,” the now 18-year-old said.

But in sixth grade, at Shahala Middle School, Lewis watched a visiting brass band have fun with their instruments, beat-boxing through mouthpieces.

“That moved me past caring what other people thought about my devotion to music,” he said.

He’s been entirely wrapped up in music since. He speaks of “personal sacrifice” and “commitment to excellence” when he talks about his passion.

And he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed in one genre. Lewis plays classical music in the Union High School wind ensemble and jazz for the Metropolitan Youth Symphony in Portland.

He’s played at the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival and marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade in New York City.

This fall, he’s headed back to the Big Apple, to study trombone performance at New York University. He wants to be a studio musician and be at the top of his game.

But most of all, he wants to be a good example. Lewis’ father is black, his mother Lebanese.

“I want to show black youth and Lebanese youth that you don’t have to gang bang. You don’t have to skip classes,” Lewis said. “I want to be encouraging to youth. If it’s through music, I’ve done my job.”

Mackenzie Streissguth

Her passion: theater.

Her plan: hopes to direct productions.

In the hectic world of high school theater, Mackenzie Streissguth found calm in the background.

The 17-year-old Ridgefield High senior set the stage for her peers, literally and figuratively. Her catch-all title of stage manager did not quite capture the myriad roles she played off-stage.

She had a hand in making sure people made it to practice, that sets and costumes were designed and created, that programs were correct and tickets were printed. The theater group performed in the school’s cafeteria with less than ideal equipment, she said, refusing to let herself or others use this as an excuse.

All this, so those on stage in the spotlight could “just act,” Streissguth said.

Streissguth’s theater efforts also helped her. By her own account, she had a rough time in high school and missed a lot of class her sophomore year. Theater provided her a reason to strive, to dream.

Streissguth plans to attend Western Washington University with a focus on theater. She hopes to direct productions someday.

Could she one day step into the acting spotlight? No, she said.

She laughed while recalling an unintentionally funny cameo she made in Ridgefield High’s production of “MmmBeth” her sophomore year. She knows her place, and that place is behind the scenes.

“I’m pretty good about cleaning up messes; more so than being in the spotlight,” Streissguth said.

Silas Matson

His passion: Web development.

His plan: continue at his job; college later.

Silas Matson’s friends have suggested the 18-year-old should get out more often.

“But work is actually fun,” the CAM High School senior said, sitting in the Web design firm where he’s been spending many hours outside of school since last summer.

Matson is a Web developer at ClearSight Studio, the Vancouver Web-design firm owned by his uncle, Jamon Holmgren. But Matson isn’t getting an easy paycheck based on family ties.

He is a bona fide developer, and he recently built a Web application for a homebuilder client. He specializes in back-end design — in this case, not the pretty graphics the potential homebuyer will see, but the business side, where the builder inputs a project’s components and dimensions.

Matson likes understanding how the Web actually works, he said. He wants to study to be a computer designer, but is still torn whether he wants to design hardware or software.

One thing is for sure, though: Matson will wait a few years before starting college. He’ll take a lot of math classes in the meantime, to get ready. But he plans on developing websites for ClearSight for the coming two to three years.

After all — it’s fun.

Corey Rose

His passion: rodeo.

His plan: college rodeo team; shoot for National Finals Rodeo competition.

Pain comes with the territory, Corey Rose shrugs.

The 18-year-old La Center High senior shows off his left collarbone, which he broke riding a horse in a bareback rodeo competition. The bone pushes the skin out at an awkward angle. He’s broken his right collarbone, too. And his left wrist and right thumb.

He can’t feel anything in his left knee. But when he rides a bucking horse for four, six, eight seconds — it is all worth it.

“The feeling of riding that horse that’s trying to buck you off gets your blood pumping,” Rose said. “There’s no greater feeling in the world.”

Rose started competing in high school rodeo events his junior year. Now, it is his “No. 1 priority.” So much so he missed his senior band trip to San Francisco — he plays baritone — to focus on rodeo.

He plans on attending Walla Walla Community College to compete on its rodeo team. He dreams of one day competing in the National Finals Rodeo in Nevada.

The sport, filled with broken bones, is in his blood.

“It’s part of our roots, part of our heritage,” Rose said of rodeo, “and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Ruth Giuchici

Her passion: helping troubled teens.

Her plan: a degree in criminal justice.

Compassion and dedication drove Eunicia Giuchici to help people who had fallen through the cracks. Her sister’s example inspires Ruth Giuchici to this day.

The 18-year-old Summit View High senior mentors juvenile offenders and is interning with Clark County Superior Court Judge Richard Melnick. She envisions a future helping kids who have given up on theirs.

“The difference between juveniles (and adult offenders) is they’re still younger and have a chance,” Giuchici said. “You can still mold them. They can still choose a different life.”

Giuchici traveled to Florida last summer and attended various police, court and other law-enforcement functions to finish a senior project on criminal justice.

This fall Giuchici will once again follow her sister, and in the process return to Florida. She plans to study criminal justice with a minor in juvenile justice at the University of West Florida, where both her sister and brother study.

She will go there with a mind-set changed by her time working with troubled teens.

“It makes you more thankful for what you have and less judgmental because you never know what’s going on at home,” Giuchici said of her mentoring work.

Justin Kempf

His passion: aviation.

His plan: ROTC, careers in the Air Force and as a commercial pilot.

His feet could not reach the rudder pedals the first time his father let him grab the yoke of his two-seat plane. Even at age 5, Justin Kempf was hooked.

“I thought that was the coolest thing when I was little,” the La Center High senior recalled about flying with his father, Douglas.

Now 18, Kempf’s feet have long since been able to touch the pedals. His love of flying hasn’t changed.

“You feel like you have control of everything,” he said. “It just feels empowering, that you have full control.”

Kempf hopes to follow his father’s footsteps into the Air Force and then into a career as a commercial pilot. The younger Kempf plans to spend four years in ROTC training at Central Washington University, and then if all goes to plan become a second lieutenant in the Air Force.

He recently finished ground school and plans to acquire his pilot’s license this summer. That means 40 hours in the pilot’s seat, enjoying the view.

“You don’t pay attention to the heights,” he said. “You pay attention to the scenery.”

Amaury Ferrer

Her passion: the outdoors.

Her plan: degree in environmental science.

Amaury Ferrer didn’t spend much time indoors as a kid. And she doesn’t plan to start now.

“I was always connected to nature,” the Skyview High senior said. “I always climbed trees, and I have the scars to prove it.”

Ferrer’s family moved to the U.S. from the Philippines when she was 8. Back then, her family urged her to become a nurse, a profession highly sought after in her native land. But Amaury had other plans.

“I don’t want to live their dreams,” she said. “I made my decision.”

She’s determined to study environmental science, first at Clark College, then at Washington State University Vancouver. Ferrer already spends a lot of her time working in nature.

She volunteers for the nonprofits Urban Abundance and Friends of Trees, helping to create more natural spaces in the urban area.

Her friends complain when she works in green spaces instead of spending time with them. But Ferrer likes putting her time and effort into nature, she said.

Sitting in the grass on the WSUV campus recently, she listened to the birds’ chirping.

“It’s music to my ears,” the 18-year-old said.

360:735-4517 or ray.legendre@columbian.com 360-735-4515 or jacques.vonlunen@columbian.com.