Students Who Shine - The Bend Magazine

Students Who Shine

How eight of the Coastal Bend's brightest students are shining a light for those who follow


By: Kylie Kinnett  Photos: Jason Page 
Hair: Regis Salon  Make-Up: MAC Cosmetics  Location: La Palmera

Who are our future doctors, lawyers, political leaders, and activists? They are the inquisitive

kindergarteners who are inspired by science. They are the conscientious sixth graders who
value the importance of human and civil rights. They are the tenacious high school freshmen
who realize their voices are powerful.

In this piece, we celebrate the new generation of thinkers, movers, and go-getters. We applaud
those who choose to make a difference in their community and build a better tomorrow, not
only for themselves, but for the world around them. We commend those who go the extra mile
in both school and in life. These eight students are trailblazers and give us all something to
look forward to when thinking about what the world of tomorrow will look like.

Chase is ready to roll in this print button-up shirt, white tee, blue shorts from Tillys. 

Chase Cortese
Chase Cortese, a recent graduate of Ray High School, definitely has a bright future ahead of him. While maintaing a 4.0 GPA throughout school, he also played on the varsity soccer and football teams. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Cortese also spent the school year traveling back and forth to California for acting auditions and to film a television show, Play by Play. 

But this triple threat student doesn’t stop there. He is also actively engaged in the local charity, Triumph Over Kid Cancer. In fact, he counts the late James Ragan as his role model. Cortese served as the President for TOKC’s Do That One Thing Council, which helps spread awareness about pediatric cancer. “Being recognized by the Ragans is something I will always appreciate,” he says.
He credits time management and determination for getting him through a hectic senior year. Between the IB Academic Program, varsity sports, and filming Play by Play, he had quite
the year. Regardless of how much he has on his plate, Cortese is proud of being an unwavering hard worker. Some of his favorite recognitions include being on the Distinguished Honor Roll
and receiving an invitation to present an award at an acting showcase in California.

Cortese knows how important education is and that a good education is necessary to move forward in life, and he believes fortitude, desire, and a strong work ethic will lead to success. This young man has proven those statements to be true by finishing out his senior year strong while juggling multiple projects. Cortese’s path will take him to Occidental College in Los Angeles, California in the fall. He hopes his future will hold more television shows, possibly a movie, and more.

Alyssa will hit campus in style with this striped jumper and purse from Tillys along with a trendy Kendra Scott necklace and earrings.

Alyssa Dykes
Alyssa Dykes just recently walked the stage as a graduate of Rockport-Fulton High School. After a year of trials and tribulations due to Hurricane Harvey, you will still find a smile graced upon Dykes’ face at any given moment. While the storm destroyed both her school and home, Dykes took no breaks. The oldest of four, she stepped up to help her parents with her younger siblings. Being forced to overcome diversity didn’t hold her back. She graduated third in her class with 33 completed collegehours and passed the state exam to become a Certified Pharmacy Technician. If you ask Dykes to describe herself, she would say she is determined. “Whatever goals I have set for myself, I am committed to completing them successfully,” she says. “No matter the obstacles I may face in my path, I will not let them stop me fromachieving what I have planned.” After an especially taxing year, that is one commendable trait to have.

This school year, Dykes was chosen as Senior Class Prom Queen, May’s Student of the Month, and a Shining Star and Honor Graduate. She was also selected for her high school’s Hall of Fame. She actively participated in Student Council and the National Honor Society, played softball for three years, and was involved in the New Health Science Program.

When she isn’t at school or working, Dykes enjoys spending her free time just relaxing with her friends and family, making the most out of the time she gets to spend with them. “As I have gotten older, I have come to really appreciate the time I get to spend with those I love most,” she says.

As for the future, Dykes will head to the University of Texas at Austin in the fall, where she will major in Biology. Her long-term goal, however, is to attend medical school in order to continue down the path of earning her MD, and eventually, someday owning and managing her own pediatric office. With her passion, smarts, and drive, we have no doubt she will accomplish each of those goals!

Maddie shines in this yellow layered top and white jeans from francesca’s, topped with a Kendra Scott necklace, bracelet, and earrings.

Madison Singh

Being reflective is one of Madison Singh’s superpowers. Her keen observation skills allow her to hone in on a situation and find positive ways to bring about change. This quality will help her change the world. Her other superpower is an ardent belief that education opens doors. “Having a vast amount of knowledge can lead to innovation, discoveries, and advancement,” she says.
Singh begins her senior year at Veterans Memorial this fall. Currently, she is the Valedictorian of her class and President of the National Honor Society. She earned the Presidential Award from the Obama Administration’s White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics by teaching basic English skills to the children of migrant workers. In addition, she’s been awarded the Presidential Volunteer Gold Service Award for the last two years.

She has a big heart, and helping others is one of her passions. Aside from teaching English to children, she has published several articles promoting the success of young women and spent time in Kenya where she spoke to young girls about empowerment. She has also worked with Maasai tribal children and lectured on the importance of education.

On top of excelling in school, helping those in need, and inspiring young women around the world, Singh is still your typical 17-year-old girl. She loves hanging out with her friends and playing piano. Next month, she will perform at Carnegie Hall for the fourth time. She also enjoys traveling and learning about various cultures and food.

Singh hopes her peers realize that their voice matters. “Today, there are so many movements that are started by students,’ she says. “It takes one voice to lead thousands.” We think she just might be that voice for her generation.

Zaiden is wearing classic checkerboard Vans from Journeys paired with a layered blue t-shirt and pale red polo, khakis and a backpack from The Children’s Place.

Zaiden Salazar
Zaiden Salazar is not your average 9-year-old. This charismatic third grader thrives on helping others. He also believes that staying motivated and keeping a positive attitude has helped him succeed in both academics and athletics.

Salazar sets the bar high whether it’s reading at a sixth-grade level in Library Club or setting records in Running Club. His focus and determination enable him to accomplish whatever he sets out to do. Salazar’s mom is especially proud of his ability to balance work and play.

In addition to Running Club, Salazar participates in the Library, Math, and Technology Clubs, as well as Student Council. All of these extracurricular activities have transformed him into a well-rounded and outspoken student.

Another quality that helps Salazar excel in the classroom is his willingness to ask for help. When asked what advice he would give to other students, he says, “Listen and pay attention to your teacher. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help with things you don’t understand.”

While Salazar is no stranger to hitting the books, he sill takes time to let his silly side show. He loves entertaining friends and family with his crazy dance moves, especially the worm! He also enjoys fishing, playing sports with his dad, and achieving high scores on video games.

Salazar recently finished up a winning third grade year. Some of his favorite awards and recognitions include the Principal’s Award, Runner MVP Award for the Most Improved Runner,
and the Fastest Runner Award. This young man is speeding toward a bright future.

Reece is wearing a navy blue dress shirt and jeans from Buckle.

Reece Perez
Reece Perez is one cool guy. This 12-year-old, who completed his first year at Bishop Garriga Middle School this spring, realizes the importance of a good education. He describes school as a really important part of his life.

Perez’s accomplishments include winning the spelling bee three times, participating in the Regional Spelling Bee, placing in the Diocesan Science Fair four times, making the 2017-2018 President’s A-Honor Roll, and being named Junior Master of Ceremonies of his Altar Serving team. However, in his eyes, winning first place in the 2018 4th of July Big Bang Essay Contest and getting to meet Mayor McComb top all his other achievements.
In addition to being a dedicated student, Perez jams out by playing saxophone and drums. Other favorite pastimes include swimming, hanging out with friends, watching movies, and playing with his two dogs, Jack and JJ.

Perez is persistent, hard working, and kind. His parents are most proud of his love for others. From organizing a book drive for the Early Bird Reader program to holding a blanket drive for the Mother Teresa Shelter, Perez has always been one to lend a helping hand.

When asked what he thought the key factors to success were, Perez says participation, understanding, and having patience. He strives to embody all of these qualities in his everyday life. As for future plans, he hopes to attend Yale University, become a Ballistics Expert, and work for the FBI.

Perez ends with a little piece of advice we should always remember. “Be kind, you don’t know

what is going on in other people’s lives. Be proud of your work. And, don’t be afraid to be different.” Perez is definitely on the path to inspiring others and making a difference.

Silvia’s black leggings, white tee and coordinating sweater are from Buckle, with a Kendra Scott necklace and earrings.

Silvia Gonzales

Tenacious. That is the word Silvia Gonzales uses when describing herself and it is clear to see why. The recent fifth grade graduate is not messing around when it comes to her goals and ambitions. As she prepares to enter the sixth grade, at Baker Middle School, Gonzales has a pretty clear path laid out for success. Her ultimate goal however, is to one day serve as a Supreme Court Justice due to her love for human and civil rights.

Gonzales’ achievements are many. From all A-Honor Roll since kindergarten and scoring a 100 on both of her fifth grade STAAR tests, to receiving the President’s Award and reading at a college freshman level, there is very little she can’t do once she sets her mind to it.

She is wise well beyond her years and, in fact, we could probably all learn a thing or two from this
insightful 11-year-old. When asked her thoughts on the key factors to success she says discipline, commitment, and self-reflection.
“Nothing in life comes without sacrifice,” Gonzales says. “You have to sometimes say no to what you really want to do, in order to focus and finish what has to be done to get you to the next step on where you ultimately want to be.”

When Gonzales isn’t studying hard or acing tests, she is busy playing on her State Champion U11 Girls’ Soccer team, making slime, and competing on NBC’s whiz kids game show, Genius Junior—where her team made it all the way to the semi-finals and were only defeated by one point!

It might seem like Gonzales is all work, but she knows how important play is. She says she would tell other students her age to remember to have fun. “Try your best, of course—never settle for less, but also remember you need to have some fun,” she says. And, we couldn’t agree more.

Lauren’s comfortable look is from Buckle, including a striped knit top and cream cami.

Lauren Cavada
Lauren Cavada is bright, vivacious, and determined. Her smile brightens any room she walks into and makes you instantly gravitate towards her. Staying motivated, honing in on her talents, and using her experiences and knowledge all help her to be successful in whatever it is she sets out to do.

She just finished her seventh-grade year and has accomplished quite a bit. She is an active member of her Girl Scout troop, participates in speech and debate, enjoys sports such as volleyball, kickboxing, and taekwondo, and loves theatre. In fact, her favorite award she has ever received is when she was named “Best Actress” at the UIL One Act Contest where she beat out six other schools in the competition.
When it comes to defining who she really is, Cavada prefers to not put herself in a box. “I don’t fit into any category,” she says. “I like to wear makeup and kickbox, I love to sing and act, but also enjoy watching combat sports. I don’t let labels define who I am as a person. I let my character
and morals define me for who I am.”

Her mom is her role model. The sacrifices her mother has made inspire her to strive for success. She also says she never lets a disadvantage stop her from exceeding—instead, she uses it as

At just 13-years-old, Cavada provided us with some words of wisdom we should all take to heart. “In our modern society, young people like myself are taught and shown to look and act a certain way and, whether we acknowledge it or not, that is affecting kids’ confidence and self-appreciation in a negative way. So, [we have] to be okay with [ourselves] inside and out.”

Ibrahim scores with this look from Buckle, including a patterned button-up shirt, faded jeans and coordinating gray shoes.

Ibrahim Al-Akash

Ibrahim Al-Akash remembers falling in lovevwith both science and soccer at the young age of four. He spends every summer in Jordan with his family and playing soccer with his cousins is a big pastime. With his parents both being doctors, he has always had an interest in science. He enjoys watching videos of surgeries and doing online surgery simulations.

Al-Akash, in one word, can be described as ambitious. He is often the first to show up to morning workouts and the last to leave. He is an exemplary student athlete and often spends his study hall time helping other students with their school work. His skills and dedication on the soccer field translate to his work ethic in both school and on his science fair team.

This year, Al-Akash competed in the Texas Engineering Competition, where he placed first in science and second in math at the regional level and sixth at the state level. He also placed sixth in the UIL Science Fair and first in the Biomedical Engineering in the District and Regional Science Fair, where he then advanced to the International Science Fair. The project he worked on for these fairs was an improved knee replacement. This “smarter knee replacement” can be adjusted if it slips out of alignment using a smartphone application, rather than surgery. This was done in order to reduce the risk of injury to patients. His project was even recognized by the Air Force!

All of these accomplishments have happened in Al-Akash’s first year of high school. Talk about a student who shines! He is ready-set on contributing to the world by becoming a surgeon and helping others through such profession. It might seem like his free time is rather limited; however, he enjoys playing video games and, of course, soccer, when he has the time.
Al-Akash knows just how important education is. “It’s the inspiration to learn something new,” he says. “It is the pathway to careers.” With determination, passion, and perseverance, he is making a mark on the Coastal Bend, and eventually, the world.