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Placer senior heeds cry of the rainforest

She walks the walk when it comes to celebrating Earth Week in Auburn
By: Bridget Jones Auburn Journal Correspondent
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Kierstin Gray, 17, has many responsibilities, and she feels one of the most important is protecting the environment. Gray, a senior at Placer High School who moved to Auburn from Los Angeles with her family when she was 4 years old, said she’s always been concerned about the environment. “I’d always get mad at people when they would litter, and I would make them pick it up,” Gray said with a laugh. This year Gray, who is Associated Student Body vice president, took on five different Earth Week activities for her senior project including building a compost box on campus, hosting a trash pick-up day under Pacific Bridge by Railhead Park, spray painting paper recycling bins and distributing them throughout the high school’s classes, planting on campus and participating in the annual American River Cleanup. Gray is also selling items made from recyclable materials to raise money for the Plant a Billion Trees campaign hosted by the Nature Conservancy. This campaign is working to plant one billion trees in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil over the next seven years, and is hoping to restore 2.5 million acres of land, according to plantabillion.org. Gray said she will continue selling these items as long as she can, and in a couple of weeks she hopes to be selling them in front of local grocery stores. While she had volunteers helping her with the Earth Week projects, the apathy some people felt toward protecting the environment was definitely a hurdle she had to cross, Gray said. “There was anywhere from 10 to 30 people (helping) every day,” she said. “Some people asked why I would (get involved in that), and I just said that I cared about the environment and I care about where we live — what we’re living in.” Along with her role as vice president, she is also the school’s financial commissioner. Every Wednesday, Gray compiles information on fundraisers and purchase orders and makes sure everything balances properly. Other duties include helping with senior ball, Teacher Appreciation Week, homecoming week, sports events, greeting new students and much more. Gray said she loves being involved with the Placer High community. “I like knowing everything that’s going on, I guess, and being able to control what is going to happen, and what (events) would be cool and what would not be OK,” Gray said. “We try to figure out what everyone wants, too. It’s cool trying to make those decisions.” Greg Robinson, student activities director at Placer High, said Gray is a very dependable worker in each project she tackles, and her fellow students are inspired by her efforts. “She’s a great person to be around, very positive, upbeat,” Robinson said. “She’s just an exemplary leader as a student. She’s a friendly and popular person for all the right reasons. I would consider her a friend more than a student.” Robinson said Gray really only needed to do one activity for her senior project. “But that’s not her personality,” he said. “She wanted to do as much as she could. She’s very driven.” Gray was named Student of the Year for Placer High School at the Downtown Rotary Club meeting April 28. Gary Pantaleoni, assistant principal at Placer High, nominated Gray for the award. “She’s the kind of person when something needs to be done, she’s in there, she gives time to it,” Pantaleoni said. “She’s the go-to person. If you want to find out something about ASB, you go to her — you’ll always get an honest answer. She’s a hard worker and needs to be recognized.” On top of her involvement at school, Gray has also been taking karate for 10 years and is a second-degree black belt. She works at Paula’s Bake Shop and Headquarter House at Raspberry Hill Golf Course, and is involved with the religious program Young Life. Gray said she doesn’t really have time to sit and relax, but she enjoys being involved with all of her activities. “I like just being busy and doing everything,” she said. “Usually Sunday is my time to relax, but I’m also taking hard classes so that’s also my homework day. I usually do Calculus that day for five hours or six (hours).” Jenna Harlacher, 17, a junior at Placer High who is involved in leadership classes and helped Gray with three of her Earth Week projects, said Gray knows how to balance all of the activities in her life. “I feel like some people can’t handle it, and she handles it well,” Harlacher said. “She shows that you can bring a whole week of things to our school, and the fact that she can do everything she does and still be sane (is impressive).” Next year Gray will be attending UC Santa Cruz in the College of Environment and Society, and said one day she’d like to have a job dealing with the environment. “I’ve thought about lots of different options with that, like environmental architecture, and I’ve thought about environmental law,” she said. “So I’m leaning toward that definitely.” Bridget Jones can be reached at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com