Graduation: Delta Charter valedictorian sets sights on future
by Jon Mendelson / Tracy Press
May 24, 2012 | 3715 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sheela Bearfoot dominated in speech competitions this year, filling shelves with her trophies. She will lead Delta Charter High School’s Class of 2012.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
Sheela Bearfoot dominated in speech competitions this year, filling shelves with her trophies. She will lead Delta Charter High School’s Class of 2012. Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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Only a week away from graduating from Delta Charter High School with 139 of her peers, senior Sheela Bearfoot is already looking to college and beyond. Which is no surprise, considering that the 17-year-old valedictorian has been looking ahead for much of the past decade.

“I’ve always been very focused on long term versus short term,” Bearfoot said about the way she looks at life.

In the short term, she plans to attend University of California, Berkeley, where she hopes to study plant genetics and biology while completing minors in both international relations and environmental economics and policy.

Her future studies were carefully chosen as part of a longer-term goal. Bearfoot wants to open a medical clinic someday that will provide health care to underserved communities.

“I’ve really wanted to go into medicine since I was 8 years old,” she said. “I was really spurred when my best friend was diagnosed with schizophrenia.”

Her focus on the future makes her a natural choice to deliver the valedictory speech during the graduation, which begins at 10 a.m. June 2 at the school on Koster Road just north of Durham Ferry Road.

Tickets are not required to attend the commencement, which also features salutatorian Elizabeth Nadeau and keynote speaker Petri Hawkins Bird, the bailiff from “Judge Judy.”

School officials expect 1,000 people to attend the outdoor ceremony.

Bearfoot’s talk — including a top-10 list of reasons to attend Delta Charter High, she said — will reflect on a school motto about sowing seeds for tomorrow’s harvest instead of simply reaping the harvest of today.

That’s an attitude Bearfoot said she lives by. She is already considering graduate study options so she can open her clinic by the time she’s 30.

“(My parents) said I was 35 years old when I was born,” said the lifelong Tracy resident, laughing.

Her parents, Janice and Lawrence, have “always been supportive and academically geared,” said Bearfoot, who noted that her 11-year-old brother, Sequoia, and twin 14-year-old sisters, Kiowa and Cheyenne, are also on track to achieve.

But Bearfoot hasn’t only shown her acumen in class. She has been wildly successful in extracurricular pursuits, especially speech and debate.

She’s second in the National Forensic League rankings for California and 26th in the nation. A room at Delta Charter High is filled with trophies she and her teammates have collected by beating up larger neighboring schools on the way to a No. 3 ranking in the Big Valley region.

Reed Niemi, her speech and debate coach as well as a history and leadership teacher, described Bearfoot as “articulate, intelligent, independent.”

Niemi, who has been involved with speech and debate for nearly three decades, said Delta Charter allowed Bearfoot to grow because of “her ability to determine her own path.”

Bearfoot agreed that the charter school gave her opportunities a more traditional school wouldn’t — such as financial help to attend high-level speech tournaments across the country. Chances such as that, she said, are part of the reason she wants to serve her community.

“I know that I’ve been given a lot of resources, and I feel like it’s only responsible to give back as much as I can,” Bearfoot said.
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