2022 Students of Distinction
Toby Derrick overcame challenges, found new friends
Gig Harbor Now is posting profiles of each of the 25 Students of Distinction being honored by the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation. The students will be honored during a banquet from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Ocean5, 5268 Point Fosdick Dr.
Student: Toby Derrick
School: Peninsula High School
Category: Career & Technical Excellence Achievement
Toby Derrick was adopted as a toddler from Guatemala. Early life traumas and ADHD created big challenges for him, especially during his early adolescence. He fell in with the wrong crowd, did very poorly in school and was on a dangerous, negative path.
“Before I moved to Washington, in middle school, I started hanging out with the wrong kids,” he said. “Instead of focusing on what was important, I focused on getting attention from my peers. I made people laugh and I liked getting that attention. But it was negative attention.
“I gave up on the good and positive people for people that were bad influences and they led me to get into tons of trouble. Jokes led to fights and then bigger things like pulling the fire alarm. I cared more about making people laugh than I did about succeeding and caring about my future.
“I hung around with kids who enjoyed doing dumb things like getting into fights.”
The problems continued after he moved to Washington and entered Peninsula High School. Eventually he wound up being suspended. Then COVID hit and everything shut down, and suddenly he wasn’t able to hang around with his usual pals.
Time to think
The pandemic gave Toby time and space to think about his future. “It actually helped me in a way. It helped me to focus on myself and realize that the kids I was hanging around with and trying to impress, they didn’t care about me at all. All they got out of me was a laugh and a good time,” he said.
When he needed support, none of those supposed friends were there for him. “It hurt but at the same time I realized something important — that there are kids who don’t really care about you, just the things you do to make them laugh,” he said. “I started making new friends and becoming closer with different people and in junior year, I actually truly felt happy. And it wasn’t because I was getting attention — it was because I actually had people who cared about me and made me feel safe and supported and cared for.”
The summer before his senior year he went into a Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training program. He met good people who are now his closest friends. And he met the person who has become his mentor and favorite teacher — Lt. Cmdr. Darrell Hood.
The NJROTC program helped shift his attention to positive activities like football, unified sports and volunteering at church. He’s been working at a part-time job where he’s valued as a hard worker and a team player.
The pandemic also gave him time to focus on improving his grades. He’s gone from a GPA of 1.0 in his freshman year to 3.17 as a senior.
‘Always seeking to better himself’
It has taken hard work, positive energy and commitment to overcome all his challenges, but Toby has persevered. And through the support of his family, teachers and counselors, he has learned to make healthier, more intentional choices. In fact, last December he was nominated as Student of the Quarter by four of his teachers.
“I have a whole team of teachers and adults on my side, cheering me on and helping me in every way. I have made so much growth and I am so proud of myself I feel like crying knowing I went from someone who was always doing the wrong things, to being someone who’s successful and responsible and successful.”
Letters from teachers and pastors affirm Toby’s success. “As a pastor, I believe in miracles,” Rev. Molly Fraser of Gig Harbor United Methodist Church wrote. “But I believe even more in the power of change and growth that we can see before our own eyes when someone chooses health and growth for themselves. For a kid from a difficult background and plenty of challenges, who could have walked a very different path, I have seen Toby choose wisely.”
Lt. Cmdr. Hood speaks proudly of Toby’s success. “The increasing dedication and performance of Mr. Derrick during his periods of academic study clearly shows his commitment to becoming a model citizen. He is always seeking to better himself. Civic minded, he is active and continues to improve in many areas. He is intelligent, inquisitive and yearns to gain an in-depth knowledge of all issues. In my view, Mr. Derrick compares highly favorably with the best among my cadet students as well as those attending the high school. It is clear to me that he will remain a positive representative of our community in years to come.”
Toby plans to attend either Tacoma Community College or Olympic College of Bremerton next fall, to become a firefighter or to pursue a career in film production.
His advice to younger students: Find good people who you can really trust. High school can be scary.
School: Peninsula High School
Category: Career Tech Achievement — NJROTC
GPA: 3.17 – Student of the Quarter, Dec. 2021
Parents: Amy and John Derrick
Favorite teacher: Lt. Cmdr. Darrell Hood
Best thing about PHS: “The teachers. They don’t give up on you. They are 100% on your side and will do everything they can to help you.”