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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘Resilience’: West Valley dance team captain navigates grief, bound for medical school

UPDATED: Thu., June 3, 2021

Gabrielle Andres – valedictorian, West Valley High dance team co-captain and University of Washington bound pre-med student – has been learning to appreciate the little things during her senior year.

“She never had a day in high school during which her mom wasn’t either fighting cancer or had passed from it,” said Dusty Andres, Gabrielle’s father. “I’m proudest of her resilience. For her to do the things she’s done and maintain the mindset she has is truly exemplary.”

When Dusty Andres thinks about moments his daughter impressed him in the last year, he doesn’t mention academic accomplishments. He thinks of how she handled Christmas. Her mother died in spring 2020. December brought the first holiday season without her mother, who would usually go all out decorating. Dusty Andres worried about letting his children down. Instead, Gabrielle Andres and her brother, Toby Andres, took on the mantle.

“They made it special like their mom would,” Dusty Andres said. “She took on that role of ‘How can I make this holiday special?’ and in this case it was kind of for me. The pride on her face when they pulled that off was incredible.”

While navigating her changed family, Gabrielle Andres maintained a 4.0 GPA, co-captained her school’s dance team and spent 50 hours per week at Spokane Elite Dance Studio.

Andres is a dancer through and through, her coach Jodee Cahalan said, possibly more than any other student Cahalan has taught in 20 years of coaching the dance team.

“She’s the embodiment of a dancer. You can instantly tell that she’s a dancer. She walks like a dancer. She holds herself like a dancer,” Cahalan said. “She sort of magically brings out the best in others – people who are in class with her, people who are in studio with her – she’s a very generous leader and teammate.”

While Andres has been competitive and strived for perfection since childhood, Dusty Andres remembers, the last year meant readjusting when things didn’t go to plan. Her school’s dance team couldn’t practice in person for months. She applied to Harvard University and took it in stride when she didn’t get accepted, her father said.

At the University of Washington, Andres plans to study pre-med. She considered going into oral surgery before her mother’s fight with cancer, but now she sees herself becoming an oncologist.

Andres said COVID-19 seemed to create some further divisions among her high school class, but more than that she noticed peers being more understanding. She said her classmates who lived through the pandemic have matured faster, accepting that the difficulties in other students’ lives might not be readily visible from the outside.

“I think COVID has created a lot of problem-solvers and made people a lot more resilient,” Andres said. “For one, we’ve had, like, eight different schedules come out through the year, and I think people are a lot more adaptable than they would’ve been a couple years before COVID.”

Andres’ advice for younger teens is to appreciate the small things in high school, from football games to practicing in person and going to a physical classroom.

“I didn’t do that as much as I should have. I was so focused on testing and SAT scores and amazing grades that I didn’t get to revel in the experiences I had,” Andres said. “Live in every moment just because you never know what’s going to be taken away from you, and you never know when is going to be your last chance to do something.”

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