Don’t think of North Central High School senior Celena Ward as the heroine of a rags-to-riches story. Think of her instead as a work in progress.
It would be easy enough to glorify Ward. After all, she’s the first in her family to graduate from high school, and next fall will be the first to attend college. She’s an honor roll student and accomplished athlete, respected as a leader by teachers, coaches, administrators and fellow students.
But Ward doesn’t forget how she got here, and far from ignoring her past, she is determined to learn from it.
“I have three older sisters,” she said, “and I saw the difficult paths that they chose, and I knew that I wanted something different for myself. It isn’t that I don’t love and respect my sisters. They have helped me learn from their mistakes and we talk about it. They’re very proud of me, and they’re always there for me.”
Ward’s parents divorced when she was still in elementary school, and she tried out a “bad girl” stage, she says, becoming something of a rebel and behaving disrespectfully at home. But that didn’t last long.
“Even though I was only like 10 years old, I realized that wasn’t the kind of person I wanted to be. I was sad and mad when my parents divorced, because other kids had things I didn’t. But I saw how hard it was for my mom, and I didn’t want to keep treating her badly.”
North Central Assistant Principal Steve Fisk is among those at NC closest to Ward. “Sometimes we look past milestones like graduation,” Fisk said, “because we assume that everybody does it. But that’s not how things are.
“Celena’s the first in her family to graduate, and that speaks to her commitment. Whatever she does after this, she’ll do it in a big way. Everything she’s done here is a tremendous statement about how she sees herself and the future she wants to have.”
Ward isn’t sure about her academic direction once she enrolls at Washington State University this fall. It might be business and interior design, or it might be molecular biology. North Central science teacher Randy James, who salutes her as “Dr. Ward,” is hoping for the latter.
“Celena is one of those kids that a teacher will always remember,” he said. “I’ve known her for four years, and she has always demonstrated persistence and grit. She is remarkable under pressure, and she knows how to celebrate successful failures. Even when life seems unbearable, Celena has tremendous grace.”
Ward has been a three-sport athlete at North Central until this year, when she gave up basketball, and she is the third-ranked javelin thrower in Washington, all classes. Just recently, the WSU throwing coach contacted her and she will be an invited walk-on next year.
So what did she do with the time she had on her hands this year during basketball season? She decided to try something new, and helped coach a 14U club volleyball team with her high school counselor, Lyndsey Anderson.
Not surprisingly, Anderson is another member of Ward’s fan club.
“Having Celena on our coaching staff this spring was incredible,” Anderson said. “She modeled not only perfected form and technique, but also sportsmanship and perseverance. Every word that she spoke to the girls was positive and encouraging. She is such a powerful leader.”
But for all the accolades she’s received, Ward recognizes the importance of taking care of herself in the future.
“I know that education for me is a way out of working dead-end jobs,” she said. “I don’t want to just get by, but to provide my family with things my parents couldn’t provide for us. I want all my nieces and nephews to see that whatever they want to do, they can. I want to be a role model.”