Recent Winlock High School graduate, Rachael Annonen started her life as a tiny one-pound and nine-ounce preemie. Born on her mother’s birthday, her father Joel recounts the day she was born as a whirlwind of confusion and concern. After a harrowing ride up the freeway, on the shoulder through construction in an ambulance, he was told could lose both his daughter and wife.
His wife Melissa was in the ICU for five days and tiny Rachael was in the NICU for three months. The couple remembers other parents who were unable to bring their baby home from the NICU. Through kangaroo care and time, Rachael came home. “Ever since then, she has been a trooper,” says Joel.
“She’s always been a fighter,” says Melissa. “She was born with a fighter’s spirit. She is a very determined person but with a grounded and sweet soul.”
Rachael’s kindness seems to exude from her very being. Melissa recalls watching her go around the waiting room during her many childhood doctor visits, offering people food.
At 15-years-old, Rachael had an “aha moment” while riding the bus. She was sitting up front because the bus was full. A five-year-old was having trouble reading, so Rachael helped her. Then other kids started asking for her help. “I would listen to them and hear about their day and what they were learning,” she says. “This is what inspired me to be a teacher.”
Rachael most enjoys teaching kids between age five and seven. “They’re naturally curious and love to learn at that age,” says Rachael. “Kids are so imaginative. Conversations with little kids can blow my mind. They are so resilient.”
She had originally considered becoming a veterinarian or doctor but didn’t like seeing creatures in pain. She also considered becoming a police officer but didn’t want to cause anyone harm.
Rachael even earned a teaching scholarship from a couple who heard her bus story. While presenting her with the scholarship, they also gave her a book he’d gotten from his principle when he graduated. “My favorite thing I got from scholarship night was that book,” she says. “It was really sentimental.”
The 1941 book bears an inscription to Rachael; “May you always remember the joy of helping kids learn to read. We are happy this book made it full circle back to Winlock.”
Rachael keeps busy with many clubs, activities and community service projects. “I like to be busy,” she says. “I get bored easily.”
She has a long list of projects and loved participating in FBLA where she went to state for website design. She was also involved in Santa’s secret workshop at the elementary school. “I like anywhere I can interact with people,” says Rachael. “I really love working with kids. They’re energetic and sweet.”
Art is a huge part of Rachael’s identity. She has won nine awards, including an OSPI Superintendent’s Award for her drawing, “Hand Morph of a hand changing into a German Shepard.”
“I didn’t realize it was for a scholarship,” says Rachael. “But it was really cool I could win something with my art.” She also won Battle of the Cowlitz art awards, including several People’s Choice Awards. She plans to enter more art in competitions in hopes of earning additional college scholarships. Living creatures are her favorite subjects. “I really like animals,” she says. “And I like drawing people because you can convey so much emotion.”
One of her most amazing art pieces is of a fading tiger. Her original plan was to do a rhino face with a missing tusk but while looking at references, her sweet soul was unable to complete the project as she had envisioned. “It was one of the most heart-wrenching things I had ever seen,” shares Rachael. “I was not able to draw that. It was eye-opening.”
Rachael shares that she’s prone to stress and her health has suffered from it. This has prevented her from the sports she loved in high school. “I take a step back now, letting more stuff go,” she says. “Also I’m doing yoga and I like stretching.”
Going to college will be a challenge for this family-oriented young lady but she’s up to the task. “I will miss my dog and family,” she says. “I want to focus on getting good grades. I also want to get involved in clubs, the art community and maybe even sports again – just not stressing so much.”
Full of kindness and a positive outlook, Rachael Annonen will continue to do wonderful things wherever she goes. “Work hard, keep an open mind and stay humble,” she says. “Be kind to everyone. Rudeness is disconcerting but you don’t know where people are coming from so just be kind.”