Leah Peterson

Leah Peterson is Sequoia Pathway Academy’s 2020 valedictorian.

MARICOPA — Seventeen-year-old Leah Peterson didn’t necessarily set out to become valedictorian of Sequoia Pathway Academy when she started high school, so it came as a shock when she found out she’d won out at number one in her class.

The musician and vocal performer was born and raised in Maricopa, and enjoys playing several instruments including the piano, drums and guitar. She was also a part of her choir at Pathway.

“My favorite part was just getting to learn new things that I didn’t know already. Because I have been playing piano for almost seven years probably, I did have a music background before the class,” Peterson said. “Just learning new things like the drums and learning some more guitar was fun for that reason.”

In addition to her classes, Peterson was excited to participate in school performances and attend school functions like the Homecoming dance. But her most exciting achievement to date is her latest.

“Definitely this achievement, getting number one,” Peterson said. “School has always been hard and never has come easy for me. It just comes to such a surprise that my hard work paid off.”

Peterson had her fair share of struggle in high school. After a type one diabetes diagnosis at the end of her freshman year shocked her, she had to push on with schoolwork while trying to understand her new condition.

“It was tough at first,” Peterson said. “I was in ninth grade, and I was preparing for finals and stuff and then I found out I had that. I had to spend some time in the ICU for a bit to recover from it and also learn what I had to do for treatment.”

An only child, her parents are proud of their daughter’s accomplishments and “very supportive” of her future goals. She is going to Grand Canyon University in the fall. Where she was accepted into the honors college.

Her plan is to study nursing, and enter the field that helped her when she received her diabetes diagnosis. She even hopes to one day work with other patients with diabetes.

“(I have) type one diabetes, and I think that kind of swayed me,” Peterson said. “I didn’t always think I was going to go into nursing, but I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field … like endocrinology, which is basically a diabetes doctor.”

For now, Peterson looks forward to graduation. Sequoia Pathway will honor their graduates with a “drive-in” style ceremony in the parking lot of the school, and Peterson has already submitted her speech for review.

“Over a virtual graduation I feel like I would prefer to just do a real graduation,” Peterson said, “just because I want to have that experience still — walking down the stage, giving my speech.”


Katie Sawyer covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at ksawyer@pinalcentral.com.