LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — High school graduations for Clark County students wrapped up last week and there were some definite highlights. Several students around the valley stood out for their hard work.

When Jessica Halili was a child, she immigrated with her mother from the Philippines. She didn’t know any English but says music helped her.

“As I did come from a musical background, it was a lot easier for me to grasp English,” Halili said.

She dreamed of a better life and took steps to make that happen by graduating at the top of her class from Las Vegas High School. She did that while giving up her weekends for a part-time job and becoming president of the school’s Mariachi band. That role required her to learn yet another language, Spanish. She said she didn’t do it alone.

“Teachers are supposed to motivate you. Knowing the teachers that I’ve had from kindergarten to my senior year, a lot of them have motivated me to become the person I am now,” she said. Halili said it’s now up to her. “To continue my talents, to pursue my dreams, and to continue school.”  

She plans to study psychotherapy in the fall at UNLV.

Another graduate, Daniella Elge, also credits her teachers for encouraging her.

“He really helped me look at math in kind of a new way and I feel like he kind of inspired me to keep wanting to do math,” she said. 

She graduated from Silverado High School with honors.

Elge said her calculus teacher Eric Drum and several others helped her to attend Harvard University, one of the most selective colleges in the world. She didn’t think she could get accepted into Harvard.

“My plan was always to go to UNR, I think that’s where I wanted to go,” she said.

Elge will study math at Harvard which is underrepresented by women.

“For me, it never really seemed like something I couldn’t do, because my parents would always say ‘OK you’re going to be a doctor. You’re going to be a lawyer.'”

Both Elge and Halili admit making their dreams possible meant applying themselves and working hard — a mindset that will help guide them through college.