Nya Jaquez wanted to be a lot of things when she got older. She wanted to attend the University of Washington and become a Husky. She wanted to be a doctor or oncologist. She had dreams and aspirations, and an urge to live that couldn’t be tamed.
Most importantly, she wanted to live a normal life.
At this year’s Yelm High School graduation ceremony Sunday, June 16, Nya’s classmates will honor her legacy and remember their classmate for one last time as they turn their tassels together. She would have graduated this year.
Dozens of articles have been written about Nya in the Nisqually Valley News during her long fight with a rare form of colon cancer and after her death on Oct. 16, 2016. Her struggles also brought a community and school district together in a way rarely seen.
But since then, many things have changed — the community has healed its wounds and people have moved on with life.
But one thing that has not changed is their memory.
Senior Jacob Dimond, a Yelm High School football lineman and friend of Nya’s, is one of many students who got a tattoo in remembrance of their friend and classmate. In a cursive and bolded font, the ink on his left forearm reads “Nya Strong.”
Dimond is just one YHS senior who carries on her story.
“It’s just something that I’ll always have with me because as we get older some of the memories start to fade, but then when I have this tattoo with me it’ll be something to remember her for,” Dimond said.
Both Dimond and Nya attended Yelm Middle School. He met Nya in seventh grade when a group of students and staff shaved their heads in support of Nya as she was going through a round of chemotherapy treatment.
“I’ve had family go through cancer and that, so I thought it’d be cool to shave my head there with her,” he said. “That was before we were even really friends. And after that, we just started getting closer and closer ... I knew it wasn’t easy on her, so I was like, ‘The least I can do is at least be there for her to talk and get her mind off things.’”
Then, in their sophomore year at Yelm High School, Nya passed away at the age of 16. In two years leading up to her death, she underwent extensive surgery and chemotherapy. Many days she’d wake up at 4:45 a.m. to travel to chemotherapy in Seattle before ending her days often with extracurricular activities, such as golf, back in Yelm.
“She never wanted to be known as the girl with cancer,” Dimond said.
Since sophomore year, Dimond and the boys within Yelm’s football program have hosted a Blue Out game in support of Nya. Stands were decorated with “#NYASTRONG” banners, according to one Nisqually Valley News article. Nya would only be able to attend the first game on Sept. 9, 2016. Each year since her passing, the team has carried on the tradition.
Doug and Kasandra Jaquez, Nya’s parents, say they couldn’t have done this without the community or Yelm Community Schools’ help.
“We don’t know how to thank them enough. And we honestly could not have gone through this. And the way they’ve chosen to let her name live on is the biggest deal I think that we could have asked for,” Kasandra Jaquez said.
Since her death, the Jaquez family has established the Nya Faith Jaquez Scholarship, which this year awarded $4,000 total to four of Nya’s classmates, many of them friends. This scholarship was funded through the Jaquez family, friends and local businesses.
Doug and Kasandra Jaquez said they plan on privately funding the scholarship for Yelm High School seniors for years to come.
“The community’s done so much for us that we just wanted to give back,” Doug Jaquez said.
Nya’s parents say they’re not sure what to expect at the graduation ceremony this year besides what they’ve already been told, which is that there will be some words from administrators and students in remembrance, a moment of silence and an empty seat.