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WHS senior aspires to be a voice for the voiceless

Diana Rivera will graduate with high honors from Worthington High School on May 25. (Alyssa Sobotka / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Driven by a desire to help others, Worthington High School graduate candidate Diana Rivera will let that passion guide her in her journey beyond high school.

The 18-year-old Mexican-American will turn the tassel to her next adventure Friday evening, as she graduates with highest honors and plans to further her education at the University of Sioux Falls this fall.

“My mom and grandma taught me that education is the only way to get ahead,” Rivera said. “They’re my motivation.”

Although born in the United States, Rivera has a special appreciation for her family that emigrated to America, which she says put her in a position to help those less privileged. She hopes to one day do that from the courtroom, as either a defense attorney or immigration lawyer.

“I just consider myself so fortunate, so I want to give back,” she said. “I know there’s a lot of people who aren’t able to afford a lawyer. Just knowing what’s going on in our country today, I know there’s vulnerable people out there.”

Rivera has gained some first-hand experience shadowing an immigration lawyer. She liked what she saw, for the most part, but it made her toy with if it’s really the right direction for her.

“With this administration, things are getting tougher,” she said. “As I was watching (the immigration lawyer) I thought, ‘Wow. Do I really want to be an immigration lawyer and be at the mercy of whatever administration is on me?’”

Rivera doesn’t want that to hinder her ability to help others, so she’s kicked around another idea.

“So I was thinking, if I do become a lawyer, I might want to become even more,” she said. “Maybe I’ll become even more, like a senator. Someone in a position of power to make something better.”

Whatever role she may take post-college graduation, Rivera is certain a better understanding of the human brain will be beneficial, which informed her decision to double-major in criminal justice and psychology.

“If you’re going to be a lawyer, you should understand how human minds work, simply because it will help you understand what’s going on — from your client to the prosecutor against you,” she said.

While Rivera has high aspirations for herself, she said experiences at Worthington High School have set her up well for the future.

Competitive speech, the mid-freshman year transfer said, was undoubtedly what allowed her to grow most in high school. Her two-year experience also caused her to become more vocally confident, so she’s ready to advocate for what she believes in and speak up for others who don’t have a voice.

“Before I entered speech, I presumed I had a lisp, and I guess I still do,” Rivera said. “But my coach Mrs. (Linda) Neugebauer showed me how to pronounce and enunciate my words properly. It helped me come out of my shell — to come out of my comfort zone.”

Others noticed her talent, too, as she was the champion in her division in the Big South Conference.

While a Trojan, Rivera also was a member of the AOK Club and volunteered with the Nobles County Integration Collaborative during its kindness, courage and respect retreats.

Rivera said she may return to Worthington one day, but would like to see some growth — in both attractions and amenities, and acceptance for all people.

“I feel like Worthington is a great community, but it needs to grow a little more,” she said. “If it gets more diverse, I would definitely come back. It’s diverse now because of the people here, but even more so in the establishments and narrow that separation.”

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