Pursuing the positive
They positioned me between two quite fascinating stories.
Henry Cejudo, the Valley wrestler who went on to win Olympic gold spoke before me. He told his powerful story of growing up the son of an abusive, alcoholic father and an undocumented immigrant mother who struggled to support six children. He reminded students to never give up on their dreams.
Kenny Dobbs, an NBA/Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown Champion, who also lives in the Valley, spoke after me. He talked about growing up around drugs and serving time in prison. He wanted the kids to know it is never too late to turn your life around.
I was asked to talk about the power of surrounding yourself with positive people. So I told them about making a life-changing decision at a very young age.
I was about 13 years old when I decided that I did not want to run with the group of girls who spent a lot of time fighting, ditching school and sporting hickies on their necks. I wanted to be among the group of girls who appeared to have fun challenging each other to get good grades.
The first group of girls felt that, as a Latina, I should run with them, so they started following me home from school every day wanting to “jump me.” My mother stepped in and told the school about it. The principal let me leave school 10 minutes early each day, but the situation soon became unbearable.
In the middle of my eighth-grade year, I asked my mom to transfer me to another school. It was a big decision not to graduate middle school with my friends. But, I realized even bigger challenges were ahead if I went to the designated high school where I lived.
I knew that if I attended that school, I would never truly excel in the way I wanted to. So I asked my mother to enroll me at another high school in another city. It meant knowing no one and catching a 6 a.m. city bus each day to get to school. But I did it. It was a big decision for a young girl to make, but I knew even then that surrounding myself with negative influences would only hold me down. I needed to surround myself with people who, like me, wanted to set goals and challenge themselves to a better future.
I do not share this story often. But, after hearing the small gasps and looks of shock on the faces of some students, I think it made an impact.
We are never too young to make big decisions about the influences we surround ourselves with – decisions that can make all the difference in how our futures play out.
Catherine Anaya anchors CBS 5 News weeknights at 5, 5:30, 6 & 10pm. She is a mother of two, marathon runner and motivational speaker. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, connect with her on Facebook, twitter and at CatherineAnaya.com.