St. Francis grads found balance

St. Francis High’s co-Valedictorians E.J. Kelly, left, and Jesse Robinett, center, and Salutatorian Gabriella Gutiérrez were big contributors to the small Watsonville-based private school. — Tony Nunez/Register-Pajaronian

WATSONVILLE — E.J. Kelly is known for many things from his time at St. Francis High School.

Getting a good night’s rest is not one of them.

“My friends will tell you I’m not a big sleeper,” said Kelly, who estimates he slept roughly three or four hours a night while trying to keep up with the whirlwind of sports, events, performances and productions he was involved in.

Some students might have viewed the loss of sleep as an agonizing ticket to success — a frustrating means to an end — but Kelly felt like the all-nighters were part of a high school experience that he’ll eventually look back on with nostalgia. 

“My goal wasn’t to have this perfect high school experience,” Kelly said. “I wanted to have a full, well-rounded experience. I feel like I accomplished that.”

Kelly was named co-Valedictorian of St. Francis’ graduating class of 65 students, which all together earned $5.5 million in academic and athletic scholarships, according to principal Pat Lee. 

Kelly was a star two-sport athlete, class and associated student body (ASB) president, a 4.53 grade point average student, talent in several of the school’s musicals and a very light sleeper — something he takes pride in.

“I never looked at [losing sleep] as something to get stressed out over,” Kelly said. “I would enjoy everything I was doing. If I was writing an essay for English, or if I was goofing off with my friends at the beach, I was trying to be in the moment and enjoy whatever it was I was doing.”

As an athlete Kelly was a league champion and four-time state meet qualifier in cross country, and a key contributor to the league, section and regional champion basketball team from three years ago. As a student he kept his grades high and the morale on campus even higher by organizing several events and dances, including the school’s first-ever Sadie Hawkins Dance and Winter Homecoming Week. And on the side he performed in a handful of musicals, produced several video commercials for the school and helped run Friday Morning Live, the school’s weekly update show that mimics the longtime variety show Saturday Night Live.

All of those contrasting interests and activities helped him achieve a balance.

“To me, that was something that I really valued in high school,” Kelly said. “And the teachers and coaches here give you all the tools to do that.”

Kelly will attend Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. in the fall. He will be a Gateway Scholar, meaning he will take classes at both Holy Cross and Notre Dame during his first two years in college before moving over to the latter for good. 

He hopes to major in business or film.

OVERACHIEVER

From a young age Gabriella Gutiérrez’s parents, Oscar Gutiérrez and Rene Venegas, told her to “never be mediocre” at anything she tried.

The message stuck.

The Salutatorian for the class of 2019, Gutiérrez prides herself on effort and attention to detail in every aspect of her life. She speaks four languages, English, Spanish, French and Latin, and is learning German and Italian. She started the school’s liturgy club, math club and ecology club all while keeping up a 4.5 GPA and earning numerous academic scholarships. And she was a star tennis player, too, earning a runner-up finish at league finals two years ago and making it to the semifinals last fall — she also helped teach the game at camps throughout the county.

She said her meticulous nature started with her parents, and was cemented by her desire to become a neurosurgeon, a career path she said has been her “dream” since seventh grade.

“I was lucky that I found my purpose at such a young age,” she said. “That gave me a drive…It kept me focused on everything I did. I kept telling myself, ‘if I practice that attention to detail in everything that I do now, that’ll set me up for down the road.’”

She will continue her journey toward that goal at Yale — one of 11 schools in which she was accepted — in the fall.

EYES TO THE SKY

When Jesse Robinett looks to the sky, his mind runs wild with possibilities, explanations, predictions and questions.

“People might look at the sky and not think too much about what’s going on, but, for me, that’s fascinating,” Robinett said.

The co-Valedictorian for the class of 2019, Robinett plans to turn that passion for the weather and its effect on the earth into a lifelong obsession. The 4.5 GPA St. Francis graduate will attend UC San Diego in the fall to study atmospheric science, and he hopes to work as a researcher or forecaster in the future.

“It’s something I deeply care about,” he said.

Robinett was a constant for the swimming and diving team, math club and drama productions. He swam all four years and also took on big roles for the school’s musical every spring.

He said his sister, Shelby, a graduate of St. Francis in 2016, has been his biggest inspiration over the last four years.

“She knows what she wants in life and she’s not afraid to go for it,” he said. “That’s an admirable quality that I’m trying to follow.”

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