By B. J. Coleman
Sienna Watras-DiMuro is a stunning success story which is quite a feat considering her young age. This teenage scholar will graduate within a few months from e3 Civic High School in Downtown, headed for collegiate studies across the country.
Not very long ago, she was homeless.
Now she is bound for Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts after receiving early acceptance letters on Dec. 14, 2018.
At the age of 13, she became homeless when her parents divorced, recounted her challenging events in life that she has overcome. Her mother lost their house after the parental split, moving from Mexico to the U.S. After living half a year on a friend’s couch, Sienna and her mother were admitted into the Father Joe’s Villages homeless shelter on Jan. 24, 2016.
“The situation was terrifying and unfamiliar,” Watras-DiMuro said.
She entered e3 Civic High School during her freshman year, choosing the school for its excellent reputation, for its Downtown location, and for its emphasis on computer studies.
“I had quite a struggle,” Watras-DiMuro said. Her household was bilingual, although she spoke Spanish first, and found writing in English to be difficult. But she persevered. Her courses over the past four years at e3 Civic High School included conservation biology, computer science, Mandarin Chinese, outdoor adventure, and her real passion, digital media arts.
Watras-DiMuro is already a gifted and skilled photographer. She plans to further her studies in college with courses in media arts production, with intent to apply her acquired knowledge in roles as a creative director and public policy advocate.
“I would especially like to work on behalf of homeless children and youth and incarcerated inmates,” she said.
Watras-DiMuro and her mother moved into their first apartment during December 2017. They have had to move twice since then, due to the ever-increasing cost of rent in San Diego.
Sienna received financial aid from e3 Civic High School, with money to buy the school’s required uniform and to pay for a school-sponsored trip to China. She said she received incalculable emotional and academic support from the school as well.
Learning facilitator staffers at e3 concurred with Watras-DiMuro’s self-assessment as a courageous young woman who has persisted and thrived despite difficult circumstances. Dr. Cheryl Ward, the school’s chief of academic innovation, knows her well.
“Sienna is a born leader, a true leader. She lost the school council election but kept her spirits high and looked on the bright side,” Ward said.
Ward mentioned Watras-DiMuro’s intern stint with state Senator Toni Atkins, with a nod toward Sienna’s chosen career path.
“I see Sienna as a stateswoman,” Ward said. “She believes in people, in the good in people. She wants to be part of the solution, she is courageous and a truly beautiful person.”
Ward summed up, saying of Watras-DiMuro, “Fortitude could be her middle name.”
Cindy Lewis, who taught Sienna’s computer science classes, agreed.
“Sienna has great maturity. She is optimistic, empathetic and hopeful. I expect her to do wonderful things,” she said.
Turning during the interview to address Watras-DiMuro directly, Lewis continued, “You give me hope for the future. What you’ve been through doesn’t weigh you down.”
Quietly, Watras-DiMuro replied, “I’ve been told I’m an old soul.”
Alexandra Heath, who worked with Watras-DiMuro as advisor to the senior homecoming council, said, “For the other scholars here and my co-workers, we all believe Sienna is so mature and responsible.”
Heath added remarks about one of her proud influences on Watras-DiMuro’s education. “We helped her in finding her passions,” Heath said, referring to photography and political science.
Meanwhile, Watras-DiMuro is putting together funding sources to pay for her college tuition. She has earned a $10,000 scholarship from the Horatio Alger Association, which supports students who have overcome difficulties and are determined to pursue further education beyond high school. But yearly tuition and other school costs are expensive.
Nevertheless, Watras-DiMuro is eagerly looking forward to next year at Emerson College.
“When I walked in the doors there, I said to myself, ‘this feels like home.’ People here are working to change the world for the better,” she said.
What advice would Watras-DiMuro give to anyone going through hellish circumstances?
“There are two sides to any circumstance,” she said. “Get your stuff together. Find what inspires you to keep going. Remind yourself why you are doing things, and never give up.”
More about Sienna’s story in her own words, and samples of her photography can be found on her website at iamsiennadimuro.weebly.com/.
— B. J. Coleman is a local freelance journalist and editor/staff reporter with 22nd District Legionnaire. B. J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.