by Jennifer Mistrot and Michelle Griego

RICHMOND (KPIX 5) — For many students, graduating at the top of their high school class, then getting into their dream college is their top goal. But for Keila Audelina Calderón Ordoñez, success means putting her family and community first.

So when she welcomed her fellow 2020 graduates at Richmond’s Leadership Public School‘s virtual graduation ceremony, Calderón Ordoñez took the stage with confidence. Her on-line speech as class valedictorian was not met with the typical applause an in-person graduation crowd would have brought.  And her first television interview, conducted by Zoom, was unconventional too. But just like many of the other challenges she has faced, the 18-year-old Richmond resident took it all in stride.

“I learned, like, to like love myself,” she explained. “And be happy.”

Her outlook is an inspiration, and her success- educational and otherwise- is a credit to her mom.

“I am motivated because of my mom,” Calderon Ordonez declared. “I grew up low-income … being born with a single parent, [and] my mom was only a teenager.”

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Faced with caring for a young Keila, her mother left school to work. The young family struggled and money was tight.

“I saw [my mom] struggle to pay our bills when I was younger,” she said of that time. “And still somehow that, like, got me here.”

Here is UC Berkeley, where Calderón Ordoñez is now a freshman majoring in biology and business. Her fluency in Spanish translation has enabled this future would-be doctor to excel at medical internships and volunteer opportunities with community organizations like Hope Services, a mental healthcare and disability service provider based in San Jose.

Calderón Ordoñez volunteers virtually up to three times per week at the non-profit, helping doctors communicate with their patients. It’s volunteer work she is proud to do.

“I am mostly interested in helping people of color and low-income,” she said. “Patients that are Latinx or who only speak Spanish. I basically help the doctor translate from English to Spanish and vice-versa. I, myself, know how it feels not to have enough resources … so that sparked my interest.”

And now, she is not the only one in her family interested in helping others through education. Her mother is back in school, too

“She started taking G.E.D. classes,” she revealed with pride. “So it just inspires me to keep trying my best in everything.”

For Calderón Ordoñez, her best is to honor her own mother’s dedication to her, while serving her community. She hopes to  practice emergency medicine someday because she feels that’s where her Spanish skills would be the most helpful to others.

“[I want to] empower my own community … as a Latina,” she said. “I want to  show them that it is possible and that they should just keep trying.”