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Community taught grad to use her voice

"It's really important to get your mind open and hear other people's stories," Betty Garcia said.

Betty Garcia
WHS senior Betty Garcia plans to fight for social causes important to her as she pursues a university degree. (Special to The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Growing up in Worthington has prepared one graduating high school senior for a career in political activism, thanks to an active public and mentors who taught her to use her First Amendment rights.

Betty Garcia has been constantly busy throughout high school between participation in Girl Scouts, soccer, STEM club, Students Against Destructive Decisions, cheerleading, Upward Bound and the National Honor Society. This year, she took some college classes at Minnesota West through the post-secondary enrollment option and was also elected senior class secretary.

Somehow, Garcia has found time to get good grades, maintain several extracurriculars and be an active citizen. She's learned about social issues that are important to her and how to advocate for changes in public policy.

Some of the Minnesota bills she's fought for to date include the Freedom to Drive Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants to receive drivers' licenses; the Increase Teachers of Color Act, which would make systemic changes to encourage and prepare more teachers of color in Minnesota; and the Ethnic Studies Bill, which would establish ethnic studies as a required course to graduate high school.

Garcia has also been involved in demonstrations in Worthington, including the 2017 Day without Immigrants , the 2019 protest over a racist bus driver profiled in the Washington Post and the 2020 protest following the death of George Floyd .

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These experiences have helped her learn the process of appealing to government officials, Garcia said.

"I found out that you've got to talk to everyone," she said, explaining that in advocating for water protections for Lake Okabena, she discovered that she needed to talk to several different individuals and committees.

She's also benefitted by association with other involved youths, including peers who come from different backgrounds and have various takes on issues.

"It's really important to get your mind open and hear other people's stories," she said.

Although political activism can be intimidating for some, Garcia said being afraid doesn't occur to her. She is firm in her beliefs and thinks it's important to fight for change, regardless of risk.

As she moves forward from high school, Garcia intends to continue using her voice to shape public policy. Headed to St. John's University next year, she plans to major in environmental studies in preparation to advocate for environmental protections at various levels of government.

She chose St. John's because she liked the feel of the campus.

"It felt like a little community," she said.

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It also helped that the university offered her a fellowship for first-generation college students. The daughter of meat factory workers, Garcia said she's happy to have found a way to afford a university education — the fellowship comes with a $10,000 per year scholarship.

She'll spend the summer working at Bedford Industries and begin applying for on-campus jobs as soon as applications open next month. Between adjusting to a new environment, working and focusing on her grades, Garcia won't be as involved in extracurriculars next year, but hopes to find a niche that works for her.

As senior class secretary, Garcia helped plan this weekend's graduation celebration, including a baccalaureate worship service set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the WHS gym. The service will include live music, student testimony and prayer. It's open to the public.

After graduating high school this Friday, Garcia hopes to use her Worthington upbringing as a stepping stone to a bright future in making positive change.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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