Cassidy Yatsko was walking near her new Boise State University campus when a poster of singer and social activist Bono caught her eye. The picture was advertising ONE, an advocacy group fighting extreme poverty and preventable diseases.
"Once I learned how I could be helping people and make a difference in the world through the organization I knew I wanted to join it," said Yatsko, a 2014 Kapaa High graduate.
She immediately began volunteering at a local farm through ONE, and was later invited as a Boise State student representative to Washington, D.C., in February to lobby for a bill seeking to expand electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.
The story is symbolic of Yatsko's drive to make the most of her opportunities – and always seek new challenges.
As a Kapaa High junior, she left the comfort of home to spend her first semester studying in Ohio to "try a new experience" after seeing friends venturing on exchange programs. Her extensive community service resume includes being president of Kapaa High's Interact Club and Youth Group Leader at All Saint's Church. These roles involved volunteering for organizations such as the American Cancer Society, Rotary Clubs, the Kauai Humane Society, Kauai United Way, and Friendship House (a rehabilitation program for people with mental illness). She also completed an internship for U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz.
For her dedication to service, Yatsko, who earned a 4.0 GPA, was rewarded with a $1,000 Citizenship Award. Sponsored by the Hawaii State Department of Education, the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the award recognizes outstanding Hawaii public high school seniors who best exemplify citizenship in school and in the community. Yatsko used the funds, along with other community based scholarships and $9,532 from the Western Undergraduate Exchange Program scholarship, to enroll at Boise State.
"I wanted to major in psychology and the department head met with me for almost two hours to discuss the program and I was really impressed with it," she said. "The campus was beautiful, clean, and everything seemed new. The surrounding environment was also appealing to me with the mountains, rivers, outdoor opportunities, and the city nearby."
In class, Yatsko admitted to being intimidated by the 16-credit, fall semester load – which included American Sign Language, her favorite course. For spring, Yatsko is juggling 18 credits.
"I also volunteered at three different organizations and played intramural soccer so I had to elevate what I thought were good time management skills to a new level!" she jokes.
Yatsko plans to become a counselor – following her father's footsteps but also her heart. She says she developed a passion for assisting Kauai residents with disabilities while volunteering for Friendship House, and was inspired by counselors who guided fellow seniors toward choosing a college or career after graduation.
"Helping people is something I really enjoy, so majoring in psychology with hopes to be able to counsel people and help them with everyday problems seemed to be the right fit for me," says Cassidy, who hopes to one day return to Kauai. "It really helped me become the person I am today and I want to be able to give back."
About the Citizenship Award
Each year, principals nominate one outstanding senior from each DOE public high school who best exemplifies citizenship in school and the community. Each of these students have given back to make our state a better place and embody the DOE's Vision of a Public School Graduate. Sponsoring companies award their student with a $1,000 continuing education scholarship. Below, the 2015 honorees at the 11th annual awards program at the Pacific Beach Hotel on April 9.