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Wasatch High senior awarded Martin Luther King Youth Leadership Award

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Credit Judith Gandarilla
Judith Gandarilla stands with her Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Leadership Award and parents, Magdalena Ruiz and Gustavo Garcia, at the University of Utah last Friday.

For the second year in a row, a Wasatch High School senior is a recipient of the University of Utah’s Martin Luther King Youth Leadership Award.

Judith Gandarilla was born and raised in Heber City and is a senior at Wasatch High School. Last Friday, she received the MLK Award at the University of Utah. She said it was an honor to be recognized for following a passion.

“Just by having a little impact on others, a positive impact, it just really makes me feel good, and I hope I can do that more in the future,” she said.

The award recognized 12 Utah students in grades 7 through 12 for community service and leadership.

Gandarilla has worked for years with Kim Foy, who teaches English as a second language at the high school. Foy nominated Gandarilla for the award, highlighting that Gandarilla was once a victim of bullying and chose to overcome her challenges by helping others overcome theirs.

Gandarilla and friends started a lunchtime UNO club. The idea was to create a place where anyone is welcome to play cards and feel a sense of belonging with a group.

In addition to the UNO club, Gandarilla volunteers with Foy in an after-school program to help students from other countries practice their English, also over board games.

As a student, Gandarilla said she often noticed her classmates suffering from a language barrier.

“There were times when students didn’t feel the confidence in their classes because they didn’t know English, and they felt, ‘Maybe I can’t do this,’” Gandarilla said. “I was always just eager to help them, translating, helping them, and they actually got very far and are about to graduate. It really makes me happy to make an impact in many people’s lives, many of these hispanic kids that just want to succeed in such a different environment than what they’re used to back in Mexico, so it’s just an honor.”

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Credit Kim Foy
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Wasatch High School
Gandarilla (back) stands with fellow members of the Wasatch High School UNO Club.

Gandarilla is studying Japanese with the goal of receiving the school’s first trilingual certificate.

Next year, she’ll use her MLK award scholarship to attend the University of Utah, or go to another school. She may major in arts with a minor, or minors, in translating, Japanese or Spanish, and she’ll be the first in her family to attend college.

The award has existed since MLK Day was established.

“The most impressive thing we saw with our scholarship recipients was that they were already doing so much work at such a young age,” said Gabi Sanchez-Jones, manager of the university’s alumni clubs and diverse community relations. “They were leaders in their school, and many of them leaders outside of their school in the community, and we want to get those community leaders to be here with us to contribute and build our community here in Utah.”

Last year’s Wasatch High School recipient of the MLK Youth Leadership Award was Bianca Salgado Alvarado. Her teacher-nominator, Tod Johnson, said her recognition was for an instance when she stood up for social justice.

For more on the University of Utah award, visit diversity.utah.edu/mlk.

Ben Lasseter reports for KPCW in Wasatch County. Before moving to Heber City, Ben worked in Manti as a general assignment newspaper reporter and editor.
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