From the moment she participated in a swim camp at Cal Berkeley several years ago, Jaya Waller put it in her mind that she was going to attend the prestigious university one day. On March 16, the soon-to-be San Benito High graduate read an email that said she had been accepted into her dream school.
“It was crazy and a rush of adrenaline,” said Waller, the SBHS co-valedictorian along with Faith Fernandez and Robin Johnson. “It was a moment I’ll never forget.”
Carrying a 4.3 GPA, Waller balanced 11 Advanced Placement classes from her sophomore to senior years, was a volleyball and swim standout through her junior year and on top of that started working at the Smoke Point BBQ & Provisions in San Juan Bautista this year, logging 25 to 30 hours a week. Waller said she’s learned additional life skills in working at a busy restaurant under owner and Michelin-starred chef Jarad Gallagher.
“It’s awesome being able to work under him,” Waller said. “Working in a restaurant has taught me how to deal and interact with customers, and it’s helped me with time-management skills because I go to work until 9pm and then I still have homework to do. The quick pace environment is the closest thing to sports right now because I’m working with a team of employees.”
Waller does a variety of tasks at Smoke Point, including serving, taking orders and packaging orders. Finding a reward in that job along with earning co-valedictorian honors and getting accepted to Cal proved to be a balm after she was denied the chance to play a fourth year of volleyball. The Haybalers’ girls volleyball program was the highest profile sport at the school to not restart even as other sports got the go-ahead to play.
“We were really looking forward to our senior season, and it was really upsetting and hard that we didn’t get to play when so many other sports did,” she said.
Waller was driven to not have regrets in her time at SBHS, a big reason why she took part in a variety of activities and disciplines. In addition to schoolwork and sports, Waller took part in Associated Student Body activities and Class Office Rally Club.
After earning an undergraduate degree at Cal, Waller plans on going to grad school to prepare for a career as a licensed architect. She loves the structural elements of architecture along with the creative elements.
“I’m going to focus more on the modern sustainable designs, but within that the structural aspect of it because I like math and am keen to that aspect,” she said.
Out of all the disciplines she’s taken a part of, Waller said sports have been the catalyst in driving her to be her best in every area of life.
“It’s always been a big part of my life,” she said. “My first love for Cal started from swimming when I watched Olympic swimmers there. It’s also helped me with teamwork, getting along with people and making me competitive. Having that competitive drive helped me become valedictorian.”