Roaring Fork High School seniors speak to hardship and what’s in store once they cross graduation stage

Ashley Parras laughs outside of Roaring Fork High School on a sunny Wednesday morning in May.

Born and raised in the Roaring Fork Valley, Ashley Parras’ favorite part of any hike or outdoor adventure is when she finally reaches the top.

“I enjoy hiking a lot, I hate cardio obviously, but once you get to the top, it’s so beautiful and I think that just makes me realize we’re so fortunate to live in such a beautiful valley,” Parras said.

Parras is the youngest of her four siblings and is following in their footsteps as first-generation college students, since she’ll be attending California Lutheran University this fall. Her aunt and uncle raised them alongside their cousins, since Parras’ parents were incarcerated when she was only about a year old.

“I was not like the normal kid who had mom and dad at my sports events or my school events. So growing up that was different for me,” Parras said.

Parras will still keep in touch with her mom, but lives with her older sister and said her siblings continue to be the biggest influences in her life.

“I wanted to be like them or better because we’re super competitive. And I always saw them want to be better … so they motivated me. Everyone has problems but you can either choose to use them as an excuse or use them as your motivation,” Parras said.

Throughout her time at Roaring Fork High School, Parras played volleyball and ran sprints for track and field. She also participated in the Link Leaders program to mentor underclassmen and said her favorite subject is math.

“Surprisingly I really like math. Only because I like problem solving and the satisfaction is what I fell in love with. … Criminology I’m not sure about it, but I’m going with it as my intent because I Just like to understand, again, the problem-solving skills. So I like to understand people’s motives for what they do,” Parras said.

As a member of the local pre collegiate program, Parras had the opportunity to connect with other alumni, particularly Karyme Chagoya, a graduate from Basalt High School who is currently attending California Lutheran. Being involved with Pre Collegiate gave her the guidance she needed to navigate college applications and scholarships, and she is one of the 2021 recipients of the Horatio Alger scholarship.

“It’s basically given to people who go through adversities and it’s kind of like a support for them. … I think I was very authentic and raw in my application, and after I submitted it I told (my mentor) ‘I have a good feeling about this one,'” Parras said.

Parras is interested in pursuing a degree in criminology, and while she’s nervous to leave Colorado for school, she said she has a good feeling about choosing California, and can’t wait to play beach volleyball and be around all the palm trees.

“If you want to do something, don’t let other people scare you into not doing it. Because in discomfort is when you grow the most,” Parras said.

Choosing to grow

Roaring Fork High School senior Jeysel Orellana Perez.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

When she was a freshman in high school, Jeysel Orrellana Perez was riding a bus to meet her mother in Aspen when she was antagonized solely because of the color of her skin.

“On that bus I was just sitting and this other white lady came in, and she was just being really rude. … She sat across from me and she was just staring at first and then it just started. She was like ‘why are you on the bus? You shouldn’t be on the bus,’ and she was just saying ‘you’re Mexican’ and I shouldn’t be here,” Perez said.

This experience ended up being what Perez wrote her personal statement for college applications about, and thanks to the support of her English teacher at Roaring Fork High School, the essay was shared twice on public radio station KDNK. She said it’s no longer a memory that weighs on her, but sometimes when she sees a bus driving by she’ll think, ‘oh yeah, that happened to me.’

“I think it’s the way you react and you have to become stronger. Like you become stronger and it gives you some inner reality of the world, and how some people are just rude because of where you come from, how you look, your skin color, or the language you speak really,” Perez said.

Perez started off at Basalt High School and then during her sophomore year she said she fell into a depression. She said she remembers just continuing to set aside her feelings and suppressing them, and when she first started seeing a therapist how she thought it wasn’t going to be helpful at all.

“I was getting in trouble a lot … I was really going through it. I think that really just impacted my sophomore year of high school, at the time in a really bad way. But I look back and I think I’m glad that kind of happened because I think it really made me grow as a person. So when I moved to Roaring Fork as a junior, my grades were straight As, everything just changed” Perez said.

This fall, Perez will be a first-generation college student at Metropolitan State University in Denver where she’ll be focusing on a degree in social work and business. She also is one of a handful of students within the Roaring Fork School District who is graduating with the Seal of Biliteracy. She said her own challenges with mental health helped inspire the decision and now, she sees what she went through during her sophomore year as a good thing.

“With social work, I’ve just always had some feeling of wanting to help people, whether it’s little kids, adults, older people. I feel like it’s something important to have in our society,” Perez said.

Outside the classroom, Perez plays left-mid and right-mid on the school’s soccer team and is often working as a babysitter. She has four older brothers who will be attending her graduation this weekend, and she said she wouldn’t be surprised if there are some tears shed when she crosses the stage. To other members of the class of 2021, she said congratulations, and though it definitely wasn’t easy, they did it.

“It feels awesome. … I’m pretty proud of myself, just how far I’ve come. … Congratulations to everyone who is graduating, just keep going in what you want to pursue, and don’t let anyone bring you down,” Perez said.


Reporter Jessica Peterson can be reached at 970-279-3462 or

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