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Young photographer zooms in on bright future
Meet a young woman who has a vision for her future captured in fine focus.
She's Charlene Ruiz, a Cibola High School senior, who truly knows what she wants in life and has a pretty good plan for how she's going to earn it.
But first things first - Ruiz has been making headlines lately.
The student, who is taking a photography class at Arizona Western College, recently won an international award. Her photograph of the interior of a Yuma grocery store was just one of 10 - out of 350 submissions from America and Canada - to be honored in the Otra Mirada, a competition sponsored by the Mexican government. The prize for Ruiz and her fellow honorees will be a trip to Mexico City.
"I feel very honored, especially because this deals with my heritage and culture. I can't wait to go to Mexico City. I want to go there and learn about my culture and just soak it all up," Ruiz said. "This has really been a surprise to me, though."
Interestingly, she doesn't even consider herself a photographer. In fact, Ruiz had barely even picked up a camera before taking the AWC class.
"I guess I was just looking for a new hobby," she said, smiling sweetly. "I just took the class so I could kind of get the vibe for college life, a taste of it."
But as a result, she's tasted success.
Ruiz will now be celebrated for her Otra Mirada honor during a public reception set for 4:30 p.m. today at AWC's Ocotillo Hall. Local representatives of the Consulate of Mexico will make the presentation.
The winning photo shows a long line of shelves at a local grocery store. Since the competition was based in Mexico, Ruiz said she wanted to capture an aspect of the Mexican-American culture in her home town.
"It's not the same as most grocery stores in Yuma," Ruiz said, commenting how all the product labels were printed in Spanish and how the aisles were decorated in colorful Mexican banners. "Unfortunately, it's black and white."
To find the finest photo, Ruiz aimed her lens all over town. Her most common subjects were the children of her neighborhood and her grandmother's house, which she described as "like a display to our culture."
On a side note, the winning photograph was exactly the shot in which she had the least confidence.
"I really didn't think it was going to come out," Ruiz said, grinning a bit sheepishly and explaining that the contrasts between the bright and dark spots were pretty darn tricky. "I had to work on it for hours."
But Ruiz is no stranger to work. For proof, look no further than her latest report card.
"I'm ninth in my class!" she says proudly. And remember, there's about 545 other seniors in her class. "This hasn't been something I just got overnight. It took years of effort to accomplish."
It's no surprise, then, to learn that Ruiz is also a member of Cibola High's A Team, which honors students who boast all "A" grades. In fact, As are the only grade she's known all through high school.
he explained, though, that she didn't necessarily have her eyes set on any such honors for good grades.
"I was working as hard as I could to get good grades and this is where it ended," she said. "I was just doing my work."
Ruiz says she probably studies about two to three hours a day. That's on top of many extracurricular activities, including swimming, softball and student council. However, she's slowed down a bit this year because she's a senior.
"Right now I'm trying to focus even more on my education and my future in college," she said.
It's through student council that Ruiz has committed most of her time. She served as class vice president her sophomore and junior years. This year, she's the class president. Last year, she was one of 41 Arizona students who were chosen as delegates for the National Student Council Convention in D.C. and Virginia.
"Student council is just like no other class. You get to deal with a lot of fund raising, do a lot of of service projects and get really involved in the community," she said. "You especially get so involved with your school. I'm there at every football game, I'm organizing pep rallies and homecoming..."
It's through all that volunteer learning that Ruiz has discovered her true calling as an adult. And no, there's no camera involved - but there will be a ledger.
"I want to be an accountant or an entrepreneur and own my own business," she said flatly.
Ruiz plans to attend Arizona State University next year. Business will be her major, but yes, she'll probably now tack on a minor in photography.
Meanwhile, don't envision any big cities far from Ruiz's hometown nest in her future.
"My dream is to come back to Yuma," she said. "I just like small-town life. The people here are family oriented and nice. Yuma's a growing city, too. I see that there's a lot of opportunities in Yuma for everything, I just need to get an education. So that's my plan!"
Darin Fenger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6860.