Carmela de Gracia loves to try new things.
When she entered high school, she joined as many clubs and teams as she could fit into her days – the swim club, volleyball, the school band, wrestling, dancing, basketball, soccer and sea cadets in the community.
The John Barsby Secondary School graduate loves the challenge of learning and then excelling at a wide variety of activities.
“Just seeing that I can do it, taking advantage of everything,” said de Gracia. “I like expressing myself, showing what I can do.”
Some lunch hours in her junior years, she took on so much that she had no time to eat.
Last school year, she scaled back a bit so she could focus on a few areas, including achieving high grades in science, math and fine arts courses, and taking on a leadership role with the 136 Amphion Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps, of which she held the second highest position.
As regulating petty officer, her job was to ensure the dress, drill and deportment of the roughly 80 cadets were up to standard.
“I get to really push myself,” said de Gracia. “You can’t make a mistake when you’re telling someone what to do because their safety is involved. I like having my own voice and speaking up.”
Through sea cadets, she sailed the B.C. coast with nine other cadets, captained the seamanship team that came in first in the provincials this year and played the snare drum in the provincial cadet honour band.
The leadership skills de Gracia learned along the way have served her well in school and other aspects of her life.
She is the student most often picked by her peers to speak up on issues and possess the time management skills needed to juggle a full schedule while achieving top grades.
On top of cadets and her academic success, de Gracia played the alto saxophone in her school’s senior jazz band and senior jazz combo. She also sang duets on occasion, both in the jazz band and through the glee club she formed at her school.
And for her athletic side, she joined the school’s wrestling team for fun – and while she decided not to compete, she enjoyed challenging others to unofficial matches.
“I’m quick and small and I guess I’m competitive,” said de Gracia.
She will study kinesiology at Vancouver Island University with the help of a full-ride scholarship and hopes to go into medicine.
Sandy Dudley, commanding officer of the local sea cadets squadron, said de Gracia has a strong work ethic and is a natural leader.
“Cadets automatically follow her,” she said. “She looks at both sides of everything to make sure that every cadet is treated fairly. She also does a lot of mentoring.”