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Big Sky student awarded regional scholarship

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Big Sky Discovery Academy junior Annel García sits in the art room at her high school. PHOTO BY BELLA BUTLER

Annel García recognized for perseverance, family values

By Bella Butler MANAGING EDITOR

BIG SKY – In the downstairs hallway of the Big Sky Discovery Academy, junior Annel García points out a piece of her artwork hanging on the wall. 

On the canvas, the woman painted in acrylic stretches her arms to the sky with a graceful bend in her back. She wears a red flower in her hair that matches her red lips, and her festive skirt fans out around her. A green field is painted behind her, and above the field, blue sky. The woman in the painting is a dancer, and Annel’s friend from Mexico. 

“I got inspired by her…” Annel says. “And then the background is sugarcane, which is the primary export of the town we grew up in Mexico.” 

Annel, 17, is only a junior at Discovery Academy, but an accelerated high school program will allow her to graduate this June. As an artist, a dedicated family member and invested community member, Annel was one of four students in Gallatin County and the only student from Big Sky to receive the Corey C. Griffin Scholarship, a $5,000 scholarship awarded through the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation to graduating high schoolers who exemplify traits of Griffin, for whom the scholarship is named: perseverance, leadership, compassion and a drive for change, to name a few. 

“It looks at just different personal measurements than usual scholarships,” said Casey Schwartz, founding director of YCCF, who was also on the scholarship interview panel. 

One of those personal measurements that Schwartz said Annel exemplified was her commitment to her family. Annel is the youngest of three, and her parents collectively own three businesses in the area. 

“Their family really is her priority and the family’s priority,” Schwartz said. “They work together. And that is very Corey.” 

The scholarship panel also recognized her ability to overcome adversity. “She finds a lot of joy out of difficult situations,” Schwartz said. 

When Annel and her family moved to Big Sky from Jalisco, Mexico when she was 7, she said she didn’t know any English. 

“That was hard,” she said. “Because I couldn’t communicate with teachers, I couldn’t communicate with my classmates. So I had to learn English as fast as I could.” 

She doesn’t remember exactly how she learned, except for pointing out words in books to peers and teachers and asking them how to pronounce them, but she said she learned in just six months. 

Her brother, Andrew, said she didn’t just learn quickly, she dove in head first. 

“She really never let that stop her right, because as soon as she started learning English, first she started reading books—a lot. She read a lot of books,” Andrew said. 

Annel is a still a big reader, and these days she enjoys a mix of fantasy, classics and mystery. Right now, she’s reading “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” which Andrew gave her. 

Language wasn’t the only cultural barrier for Annel growing up in Big Sky. 

“[Big Sky] made me the person I am because I went through a lot of things,” she said. “Like, some people didn’t really understand when someone from a different culture comes here … They don’t understand our food, they don’t understand culture.” 

She said when she was young and other kids didn’t understand her, they’d make fun of her.

García explains the symbolism behind her art piece, which represents hate crimes committed against women in Mexico. PHOTO BY BELLA BUTLER

Despite those challenges, Annel has found her way into her own unique identity, and she’s leaving her mark on Big Sky. She volunteers two days a week at the Big Sky School District’s after-school program, and she was recently offered an opportunity to help with youth climbing at BASE. 

Down the hall from her painting of the dancing woman, Annel’s art is displayed around the school. She’s had a heavy hand in a mural the student body is collaborating on. She points to a blue macaw she’s working on, something that will remain long after she graduates.

In another one of her striking pieces hung on the wall, a woman drawn in charcoal wears a somber expression and holds her arms in tight to her bare chest. Her thick, black hair dances wildly in a background of pastel colors. Throughout the image, words, phrases and names are scrawled in black. 

“This one’s about a movement in Mexico where a lot of women have been submitted to hate crimes,” she says. 

For her graduation in June, Annel plans to host an exhibition for her paintings and photography. 

In the fall, Annel will attend Montana State University to study film.

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