From third to eighth grade, Jacquelyn Torres was silent.
But on March 24, none of the almost 2,000 people gathered for the March for Our Lives event at the Santa Rosa Courthouse Square, would have guessed that Torres, was voted “Shyest Student” at Sonoma Valley High School her freshman year, and had lived much of her childhood in a self-imposed silence.
Because on that day, she spoke as boldly and passionately as any marcher in the country.
“I have to say that I am not sad. I am infuriated,” Torres told the crowd. “(I’m) infuriated because of the capable lives that were stolen in Florida; infuriated because of these shootings becoming normalized; infuriated because of students being scared to go to school.”
She vowed: “I will not be silent; I will not continue to hold the fury that boils in my veins; I will not wait until more lives are stolen; I will not be silent and neither should you.”
The SVHS junior was not only a speaker but a co-organizer of the event — as a junior member of the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights, a group whose members engage in human rights issues within Sonoma County.
“It was way more than what I expected,” Torres said of the turnout at the event. “The fact that the youth were finally being heard, that was empowering.”
Torres, who aspires to one day run for the U.S. Senate, has been interning with Rep. Mike Thompson for the past seven months, working in his Santa Rosa office.
“If you look at the representation of senators, there is very little representation of Hispanics,” said Torres, who is also vice president of the SVHS Dragones Latinxs club. “That’s sad because the problems that Hispanics face are not being talked about.”
This year Torres was inspired to examine the issue of education, after noticing she was alone or with only one other Hispanic student in any of her three Advanced Placement classes, desirable for college admissions. Torres created an education and achievement ad hoc committee and surveyed 158 SVHS students about their education. Her findings revealed a lack of communication between students and teachers.
With this data, Torres created an Education Gap for Latino Students report, which she presented to Socorro Shiels, top candidate to be the next district superintendent, at an Education Forum on March 29.
“There is so much potential being lost,” Torres said. “I just want to try to change how the whole system is working for education.”
A part of this change includes the special education department. Torres herself was a special-ed student from fourth grade to freshman year, a time when, due to her shyness, she decided to stop talking almost entirely — everywhere but home. After being discouraged from taking AP classes, she left special ed.
“I am really passionate about politics and education,” Torres said. “It is what drives me because I’ve been in the position of being in special education and there not being a lot of opportunities.”
Torres is involved in many additional clubs on campus, including the Gay/Straight Alliance, Mock Trial, the Lady Dragons varsity golf team and serving as vice president for the Model United Nations. She is disappointed her friends aren’t comfortable joining clubs because they feel the clubs lack representation of Hispanics.
This story is part of a monthly series in 2018 chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County’s four fire zones: Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, the greater Mark West area and Sonoma Valley. Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage here.