Support from her immediate and extended family is what Donna North High School graduating senior Kristi Mariana Villanueva believes helped her succeed academically. The 18-year-old is proud to be recognized as DNHS salutatorian of the Class of 2017.

“My family and I are very close,” Villanueva said. “I’m not just talking about my immediate family but my tios, tias and cousins are also very close. We do everything together. They would go to my sport functions and school events. If I had a choir concert, everyone would show up. My choir director would always tell me we would fill up the whole auditorium. There’s a lot of us and I’ve always had a lot of support.”

Villanueva said her relatives instilled in her good values and morals that molded her into the person she is today. She remembers getting a lot of attention from her parents before kindergarten. “My parents would always read to me,” Villarreal said. “My father told me that when I learned how to read, I would reply ‘no dad I’m going to read to you.’ They also taught me right from wrong and to always do my best in everything.”

HA2A4347Villanueva admits that juggling extra-curricular activities like choir, golf and the National Honor Society along with academics were challenging. But being competitive in nature kept her going.

“I was involved in a lot of different things but I put myself out there and choose to do those things,” Villanueva said. “Extra-curricular activities require a lot out of you, especially golf because you have to practice a lot. I had never held a golf club until my freshman year and I got good at it. I was a three-time regional qualifier and won district my junior year. I was very happy about that.”

Villanueva said she would not change anything and encourages other students younger than her to get involved to supplemental their academics. She offered some words of advice.

“You have to prioritize and put in some study time,” Villanueva said. “You should also ask questions especially if you don’t understand something. Sometimes that’s very hard to do for some people including me. But asking questions is very important. You should also surround yourself with good friends because they push you and want you to do better. You should also never give up. Most of the time people want to quit because they’re really tired but you just need to hold on a little longer.”

With her high school career behind her, Villanueva is now looking forward to her future. She plans to attend The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to pursue a profession in teaching. “People grow out of things like when they’re little, children say they want to be a fireman or doctor,” Villanueva said. “But as they get older, they grow out of things and that’s not what they want to do anymore, But I’ve always wanted to be a teacher since I was little. The idea of showing others how to do something makes me happy.”