BILLINGS - After a school year filled with masks and precautions, high school graduations across the region went off without a hitch, and the after-grad, all-night parties were even better.
Seniors at the five largest local high schools celebrated safely, were entertained, and even took home some cash and prizes.
Each year, the MasterLube locations in Billings and Laurel play a major part in that fundraising by offering up their businesses for a healthy competition. Senior High artist Athena Renova, 18, won this year’s War of the Walls Competition, by drawing in the most votes in the annual fundraiser, after days and nights on the 1600 Block of Grand Avenue.
The huge orange Senior High Bronc is breaking through a wall of bricks on the MasterLube on Grand Avenue, sending a message about breaking down walls and working toward inclusion for all.
Renova thought about several options for the competition, but this one meant the most to her and her school.
“Senior is known as the most diverse school… you step in there and you're welcome there… there's a ton of really nice people there too and you make friends really fast," she said.
This huge piece of work, from start to finish, was complicated- like this young artist who's representing her school of blended races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds.
“You know, you're welcome there,” said Renova, “but in Montana, it can kind of be hard to feel that way, in certain places. “
Renova knows that firsthand. Her dad is 100% Mexican. And although no one has approached her family in public, she said, if she speaks “a little Spanish to my dad, you're gonna get a little bit of looks, like side glances.” The Senior High graduate said it used to bug her, but she has learned to ignore it.
With the help of her family, specifically, her father, Sergio Renova, Athena has learned to ignore other judgements as well. That includes her choice to head to art school in the fall. She said several people have expressed concern over her ability to make money in the future.
“I don't think I'd be here without him because he's the one who told me to pursue it,” she said. "It’s not what it’s about. It’s your passion.”
Renova has been accepted to art school in Chicago, with hopes to one day work in character design or become an art therapist.
There’s no doubt this young Billings artist will continue to break down walls, one brush stroke at a time.