Thursday, June 20, 2024

FHS senior overcomes obstacles to make academics a priority

Daily Inter Lake | May 30, 2024 12:00 AM

When Austin Sanchez started high school, he never pictured himself graduating with an outstanding grade point average, let alone with plans to attend college the following year. 

Now a senior at Flathead High School, Sanchez is doing exactly both of those things. 

“You can always turn things around,” Sanchez said. “That’s kind of cliche. But it's true.” 

Born and raised in Kalispell, Sanchez’s life has been a myriad of inconsistencies and challenges. From an absent father to a mom who struggled with addiction, Sanchez lived with his grandparents for the majority of his life. 

No one in his family had gone to college before, and growing up low-income, Sanchez just assumed he wouldn’t either. 

“I was stuck in this mindset that I wouldn’t be able to go to college,” Sanchez said, reflecting on the beginning years of his high school career.

That mindset encompassed much of Sanchez’s freshman and sophomore years of high school. At the beginning of his high school career, Sanchez and his family were evicted from their home, forcing them into a two-bed hotel room, shared by four people, for a year and a half. There was so much going on, Sanchez said, that it was hard to figure out how to focus on anything else. 

During that time, he struggled with both school and his mental health. But it didn’t stick, Sanchez said, as he started envisioning a better reality for himself. 

By the spring of 2022, Sanchez’s family found a permanent home and his passion for learning grew. At the end of his sophomore year, Sanchez was introduced to the International Baccalaureate program through Flathead High School, which offers students a special high school diploma for completing more advanced courses, many of which could count toward class credits in college. 

With a newfound motivation — some of which grew as a result of adults who doubted him — Sanchez started the program, taking rigorous classes and earning a 4.0 grade point average the last three semesters of high school. 

At the same time, his mother entered a rehabilitation program. The two now communicate regularly. 

By his junior year, he participated in the DECA business leadership program. He then joined the Business Professionals of America, the speech and debate team and mentored freshmen students through Brave Mentoring.

“You have a lot of say in how successful you’ll be. You can choose to be not a part of a community, but I found that joining extracurriculars made things so much more fun,” he said. 

That community grew substantially, Sanchez said, through his advanced coursework. In the International Baccalaureate program, students get to know one another as they work, learn and spend their days together. Sanchez remembers studying for tests with the group, an atmosphere of knowledge, encouragement and camaraderie. 

The ambition doesn’t end at graduation. Sanchez will attend Montana State University in the fall  — the first in his family to attend college. He plans to study environmental engineering but is keeping his mind open to other possibilities that may come up as well. 

“Austin Sanchez is one of the most resilient students I have encountered in my career. He continues to show intelligence, courage, thoughtfulness and determination while making positive contributions in his community,” said Lisa Sears, a school counselor at Flathead High School.

Finding community and the joy in learning turned Sanchez’s life around for the better, he said. He smiles fondly when thinking of his classmates, he finds comfort in his new reality. 

“It helped me. I think it helped all of us,” Sanchez said. 

The Flathead High School Class of 2024 graduates on May 31 at 7 p.m. in the Flathead High School gym. Approximately 330 graduates will receive their diplomas. 

Reporter Kate Heston can be reached at or 758-4459.

    Austin Sanchez will graduate from Flathead High School on May 31 and plans on attending Montana State University next year, making him the first in his family to go to college. (Kate Heston/Daily Inter Lake)