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You Knew Her When:
Easton Gardner

by Liz Warren

Easton Gardner is a real Renaissance gal: scientifically, artistically and entrepreneurially driven, she remains grounded in a dedication to her family and her community. In short, she cares.

I sat down for a chat with the Sedona Red Rock High School class of 2001 Co-Valedictorian. My assignment: to reveal for all what makes such an exceptional gal tick.

But in all honesty, it’s amazing that Easton has time to tick at all - she is so incredibly busy.

Morning after morning, Gardner gets up at the crack of dawn and heads to work, then to school and then back to work. She plays basketball and volleyball, and when the teams were travelling, she’d often get home at 3:00 a.m., and still have to pull herself out of bed in time to be at work by 7:00 a.m.

This schedule, mind you, does not include her volunteer work for the Fire Department and the Red Cross, or her school affiliations, which include the Graduation Committee and Presidency of SRRHS’s chapter of the National Honor Society.

It’s a far cry from life on the farm, which is what she enjoyed prior to moving to Sedona seven years ago, from tiny Deming, in Southwestern New Mexico. Life moved at a slower pace in the close-to-the-border town, whose main crops included cotton, chile and barley.

"The mentality was to stay at home and work on the farm," Gardner said. As part of a family who have been farmers for many generations, that tradition was deeply respected, making the decision to leave Deming a serious one.

Prior to the move, Gardner’s school years were shaped by bilingual classes and the distinction of sometimes being the only white girl around. Her natural aptitude and love for learning allowed her to skip the third grade, and by the time she was 10 and her close-knit family resolved to relocate to Sedona, she was ready to expand her educational horizons yet again.

While both Deming and Sedona are modestly sized communities, their cultures and characters are worlds apart. "At first it was really hard to transition," she said. But the attitude in Sedona was considerably more supportive of moving on and growing, of going to college and aspiring to one’s dreams.

For Gardner, those dreams have taken shape from the subjects she is most drawn to. She is a superior athlete, leaving as part of her legacy a number of trips to Arizona high school championship tournaments as the leader of her Scorpions volleyball and basketball teams. She had considered going into medicine or sculpting or playing college basketball, but she has decided instead to study architecture at Arizona State University.

"It combines my passionate side for art with physics and math," she said. Gardner has already received two scholarships, the Violet Richardson Award for the Soroptomists of Sedona and the Presidential Award at ASU, and is hard at work filling out more applications. After she completes her degree, she’s like to work for a while in the field, but eventually, she would like to own her own business.

But while she is looking ahead to the future, Gardner retains perspective on the forces and people who have helped to shape her life. In the four years she’s spent at SRRHS, Easton cites her work ethic, study skills and time management ability as some of the most important knowledge she has developed. Her greatest accomplishment, though, is "maintaining a 4.0, and really wanting to learn and loving to learn, rather than just going for the grade."

The environment afforded by SRRHS certainly facilitated that process. Gardner considers the small classes and the willingness of teachers to foster a friendly, close atmosphere a contributing factor in her success at school.

Mark Simmons has known Gardner all four years of her high school career and taught her biology and earth science classes. "She’s a teacher’s joy," he said. "She always came across as very competitive and hard-working, but knew when to relax and lighten the mood." He also notes the skill and competitive edge she brought to the basketball and volleyball courts.

Being multi-talented can be a blessing and a curse: pulled in all sorts of directions, it’s sometimes difficult to pick a path. But Gardner is remarkably self-possessed and level-headed, having handled sports, school and work simultaneously with equal ease for many years now.

This is the fifth year she has been employed by Verne Smith of Smith Financial doing general office and computer work. "She’s an outstanding employee," said Smith. "She’s meticulous, conscientious, she works without direction, and yet she’s able to be a good citizen at school."

Given the apparently single-minded fashion in which she learns, works and achieves, Gardner still manages to have her share of fun, and considers her friends and family to be the most important things in her life. She is also aunt to her older sister’s new baby — a seven-month-old boy — and clearly adores her parents. Easton is inspired by her father’s landscape painting, and though he doesn’t market his own pieces, she thinks he could with success.

Her own interest in sculpting is perhaps an echo of her father’s artistic bent. While taking an art class at school, Gardner discovered that she enjoyed working with clay. She is especially attracted to the Asian art that a teacher shared with her one day, and she frequently sculpts Buddhas and temples.

Looking to the future, Gardner’s sculptor-aesthetic and intrinsic understanding of mathematical principles will undoubtedly result in some truly magnificent architecture. Sedona is certainly lucky to have had her for these seven short but important years in her life, and perhaps these sentiments are best expressed by her employer:

"I’m sure she’s going on to do great things," said Smith. "We’re proud to have contributed to that in some small way."

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