Kyle Melendez Daigre, Cohort 7
by Alison Krupnick
Graduation season is a special time at Rainier Scholars, as we witness and celebrate our scholars’ achievements. College graduations are particularly poignant because they evoke 12 years of memories. In case you haven’t noticed, Rainier Scholars is a family, and we are very attached to and proud of our kids.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from Fred Capestany, Rainier Scholars’ former director of College Support. “I’m writing to brag about Kyle Daigre, who just graduated from the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. I had the honor and blessing of working closely with him during my years at RS and he invited me to attend today’s commencement. I think you should get to know him.”
Apparently, Fred is not the only one who thinks Kyle is worth knowing. When the word got out that I was writing about Kyle, the compliments came pouring in.
“I could brag about Kyle all day,” said Asha Hanstad, his academic counselor. “Kyle is one of the most dedicated, passionate, and creative people I know. I’m continually impressed with his work ethic and commitment to his art.”
In an engaging Zoom conversation, Kyle, a self-proclaimed introvert, walked me through his journey to college graduation — a tale of tenacity, twists and turns and a dedicated team of supporters who believed in this scholar and didn’t let him abandon his dreams.
A RELUCTANT BEGINNING
“I remember attending the Rainier Scholars information meeting with my dad,” Kyle said. “The moment I heard the program meant going to summer school, I said ‘No way!’ The next thing I knew I was called into a meeting at my elementary school with the principal and vice-principal, who had heard how I felt. They and my teacher encouraged me to try Rainier Scholars. At that point, I wasn’t thinking about college or my future, so I wondered why so many people were invested in my decision.
“I decided to give Rainier Scholars a try, figuring I could just quit if I didn’t like it. That first summer was really hard and I wanted to quit so many times.” Kyle says he received encouragement to keep going from his father, and though extremely shy, managed to make friends.
He also bonded with his teachers, who saw the person behind the shyness. “I still think about Mr. Little (longtime literacy teacher Drego Little),” says Kyle. “He was always so passionate about what he was teaching. You could tell he genuinely cared. He would give me books. He gave me a graphic novel based on Nat Turner. I never would have gotten that from anybody else. According to Drego Little, “Kyle was always a really sharp kid and had discovered some of the graphic classics on his own, no small feat, even with the Internet. It was clear that kind of curiosity and commitment were going to lead to good stuff.”
Kyle attended middle school at Northwest and then moved to online high school years before virtual learning was a common experience. He admits that this time apart from other students made him socially awkward. He continued to participate in Rainier Scholars activities in middle school and high school, including field trips and leadership retreats.
WHEREVER YOU GO, THERE YOU ARE
His love of drawing was one aspect of Kyle’s identity that was never in question, though he says it wasn’t until high school that he realized art could be a career path. After graduating, he took a gap year to hone his technical skills, in the hopes of receiving scholarships from art schools. His original goal was to study animation. Though he was accepted to several schools, he did not receive enough financial aid, so he spent a second year working on his art portfolio. He applied to arts schools again, eventually revising his preferred major to the broader field of illustration, but too late to qualify for financial aid in that field. Undeterred, he took classes at Seattle Central College and worked part-time in a print shop. In addition to fulfilling academic requirements, taking interesting electives and saving money, Kyle says the return to in-person learning benefitted his social skills.
Part of what makes Kyle so special is his positive attitude and willingness to view every experience as a learning opportunity. Of his year at Seattle Central he says, “I was able to learn really interesting things and meet really interesting people.” His print shop responsibilities grew from being the person who advertised the business by spinning a sandwich board out on the street, to fulfilling print orders inside the shop and gaining invaluable customer service experience.
“Now, I can reflect on my experiences and see them positively, but while they were happening, I was a bit frustrated,” he admits. “I try not to be negative. People notice if you have a bad attitude. Instead, I try to focus on what I can get out of the experience.”
Not getting accepted into the animation track at art school made him reaffirm that drawing is his true calling. The third time he applied to arts schools, he received a full scholarship from ArtCenter College of Design to study illustration.
HEAD AND HANDS
Kyle doesn’t sugarcoat how overwhelming it felt to finally get to art school, be away from his family in a place where he knew no one and have to find a place to live. In his very first drawing class, Head and Hands, he says he deliberately introduced himself to his more extroverted classmates who were easy to approach, a strategy that yielded some enduring friendships. “As such a humble and somewhat introverted person, putting himself out there has not always been easy,” says Asha Hanstad, “but Kyle continues to push himself out of his comfort zone in order to reach his goals.”
These goals include a dream of becoming a character designer for television, film or video games. “It’s been so much fun hearing about his new character design ideas and then seeing them come to fruition,” says Hanstad. “I look forward to seeing some of those characters on my TV screen someday.”
Rainier Scholars Career Programs Manager Steph Salazar, who helped Kyle land an internship, agrees. “Kyle is a very talented illustrator who is going to make tremendous contributions to the animation field. His creativity and dedication are unmatched!”
This summer, Kyle is interning at Sasquatch Books, where he is learning about the editorial process and developing skills that may lead to him writing and publishing his own book someday. He appreciates the career support he received from Rainier Scholars, including how to use LinkedIn, how to network and essential feedback on his resume and cover letters.
The Sasquatch staff has joined Kyle’s fan club. “”We are thrilled to welcome Kyle to Sasquatch Books this summer,” they said. “He approaches each day with enthusiasm and positivity, ready to tackle any challenge and bring a fresh, creative approach to every project. We’re so excited to have him on our team!”
Kyle admits that the work ethic that was instilled in him in his early, reluctant time with Rainier Scholars has remained with him, especially time management and the importance of completing work on time. He’s also grateful for exposure to books and ideas that he didn’t get anywhere else – relevant background which has prepared him for today’s conversations about racism.
Always reflective, Kyle sees the value in his path of self-discovery and wishes everyone had similar opportunities and support to follow their dreams.
“I believe that everybody has something that they are good at,” he says. “A lot of people don’t get the chance to explore different avenues, or they are afraid to pursue their passion because they don’t think it’s viable.
“I think if you have something you love to do, go for it and find the people who are going to encourage you.”
Kyle’s art portfolio can be viewed at: https://gradshow.artcenter.edu/spring-2021/illustration/kyle-melendez-daigre