An Insight Into the Life of Hillcrest’s Valedictorian

Kenna Johnson, Reporter

If you open up the curtains of her academic success, Hillcrest’s top senior Rebecca Loya has a lot of activities, extracurriculars, and a wonderful attitude towards self-learning to reveal behind it.

“I do [Springfield Youth Symphony], and I have a small ensemble that I’m involved in. I go to church. I did fencing for a bit, I’ve done [Fellowship of Christian Athletes] for a bit. I’m currently in [National Honor Society].” 

The Pleasant View alumna also participates in a number of sports here at Hillcrest. “I run cross country, I swam for three years, and track. I didn’t swim this year because I had a stress fracture.” She says that she likes to run and practice her violin in her free time.

Not only does she participate in many extracurricular activities, but she also works at a local farm.

“I work at Millsap Farms. I harvest, prep beds, I make pizzas on pizza night, sometimes we move greenhouses, weeding sometimes, packaging, sorting stuff… it’s mainly a vegetable farm. In 5th grade we had the greenhouse at [Pleasant View] and Curtis Millsap would come in for our science class, and then this summer he did farm camp and so I would go there and one day he was like do you want to work here? So I started working there this past summer. I’ve been volunteering [there] since 5th grade.”

Loya has previously worked as a lifeguard for the Springfield-Greene County Park Board.

“It was alright for a bit, but nothing like this. I like my job. I don’t know how many people can say that. Outside of school, I’m at the farm a lot. Even when I’m not working, there’s a pretty great community there. Like tonight, one of the kids has a birthday party. I had Passover there on Wednesday as well, so that was pretty cool.”

Loya believes that her ability to do all of these things boils down to time management. 

“It definitely comes down to time management and how much you want it. It really comes down to self-dedication. I mean, the teacher can hold your hand through the class, but it’s really up to you how well you want to do. For me, I want to do well in my classes. If I want to learn something, I’m going to. It really comes down to passion, too,” she says. She states that a “do it later” mentality isn’t healthy. “Homework is very important. Getting as much done as you can in school is key because you have more time than you think to do it in school. If you’re just wasting it, it’s not helpful to what you’re doing.”

Loya also says that she liked the hybrid schedule that was in place earlier this year. 

“I really enjoyed the two days a week setup that we had going. It was honestly the best senior year I could hope for. Just because of the variety and the things I could do and use the time how I wanted, it was amazing! I really enjoyed being [at Millsap]. It just like, sparked something. I could be there two to three times a week and still have time for school. My education and experience just felt a little more well-rounded. Life was more enjoyable that way. Like, sure, maybe not as much learning happened, but if I wanted to learn something, then it happened. It’s more about the learning. If I want to learn something, I’m going to learn it. School is a way to do that, but it’s not like I’m depending on them to teach me.”

Loya is the youngest of seven children. “I have three sisters and three brothers. I’ve lived in Springfield my whole life. My parents are counselors. My dad manages Lakeland Behavioral Health System. There’s a huge age gap between me and my oldest brother. He went to college when I was in first grade. That family dynamic is pretty cool though. I like having a lot of siblings. You can learn a lot from them. They’re pretty supportive, but there’s also that pressure to be as good as they were. There’s that pressure that’s like, ‘What do my parents want me to do?’ and ‘What do I really want out of life?’ because that’s the thing, they’re not going to college for me. They’re not living for me.”

Loya has an idea for her future, but she doesn’t have all the details sorted out yet. “I’ve been going back and forth on my future all year. I want to do sustainable agriculture, regenerative agriculture, you know. The system is completely corrupt and broken, and I want to be a part of the solution. It’s almost like a trade, but having a college degree can have value these days. My dilemma is, do I actually need that college education? That’s not the only way to learn. There’s so many other ways to learn. I’ve been accepted to [College of the Ozarks], that’s kind of where I’m leaning to right now. I’m not committed yet. There’s also [University of Wisconsin in River Falls] that I really like. They’re both great schools. People are pressuring me to go to college but am I going to really learn what I want to learn there? I have a month to figure these things out, but it’s okay. I know there’s people and resources here to help me.”

When asked about her life goal, she sat and pondered the possibilities. “I have a big passion for the environment and nature, so any way I can help with that is my goal. As a Christian, I feel like we should be caring about the world that we’re in and also other people. I guess the ultimate goal comes down to honoring God and going where he wants me and putting that first. I’m at the point where I don’t need a big, luxurious life. It can be simple. I like horses, owning a horse would be cool. I’ve never had a dog, I feel like having a dog would be fun. I could see myself being a parent, having kids, you know. The world’s the limit, right?”

Loya would like to recognize her fellow salutatorian. “Hailey [Flores] is the salutatorian. We go to church together. It’s just kind of how it landed. I’m not one of those people that are like ‘this person is first, this person is second’ it’s just like ‘oh—you’re in the top 10, okay cool.’”

She expresses gratitude for many people in her life who contributed to her success. “I’d like to thank Coach Dicks. I could tell he was putting in the effort that I put in. It was cool to see him go that extra step and help me get to where I really want to get. I’d also like to thank Mrs. Bryant, Mr. George, Mr. Schaffitzel, and Ms. Barnes. My mom, she goes to all of my events, so thank you mom. My siblings, my neighbor, and my private teacher as well. I can’t forget about my friends, either.”

Rebecca’s valedictorian speech will premiere during Hillcrest’s graduation at JQH Arena on Thursday, May 20th, 2021.