By Julie Santiago
For most college students, becoming the school’s mascot is not their first choice for an extracurricular activity. For Melissa Ann Sawyer though, it was.
At 5 feet 3 inches, the yellow-haired Sawyer had no problem picturing herself in a large, gray fluffy suit. East Los Angeles College’s newest official mascot has appeared at more football and school events since becoming Avalanche, the Husky mascot, last semester.
“They (faculty and staff) are happy to see the mascot out more. I have so much fun with the students, the faculty and staff,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer’s good friend Joseph Michael Kunkle was not surprised when he first heard Sawyer was the official mascot.
“I knew she was going to be the mascot,” Kunkle said.
Kunkle and Sawyer have previously served as mascots for Club Rush and Associated Student Union events.
Kunkle and Sawyer both played the role Avalanche before Sawyer became its official user.
Kunkle said being the mascot suits Sawyer’s spirited and driven personality.
Sawyer challenges him to do better, Kunkle said.
“When I’m on social media, she’ll ask me if I should be doing my homework,” Kunkle said. He also said that she’ll joke and tell him he’s grounded.
But Sawyer wants to motivate more people than just one.
In the spring of 2010, Sawyer started taking classes at ELAC. She decided on a child development major because she wants to work
with children with special needs.
“I’ve dealt with special education. I would like to motivate children, let them know they could pass their classes,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer feels her background as a student with special needs can motivate others with similar struggles to do better in school. If she can do it, they can, too, she said.
Sawyer wasn’t always so spirited, however.
“[High school was] rough, I didn’t like school when I was younger,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer recalled a time when Alhambra High School’s district relocated from where she lived, and as a result, Sawyer had to attend San Gabriel High School, being her new district.
“Both those high schools were rivals. I got jumped and they transferred me back to Alhambra,” Sawyer said.“They told me if I didn’t know how to block my head or ribs I could have been in a coma. But I knew how to block because of my cousins.”
Sawyer, an only child, credits her cousins for toughening her up.
She grew up in Alhambra and currently lives with her maternal grandmother, cousin, uncle and aunt.
But Sawyer also has a second place she calls home.
“ELAC is my home. In the beginning here, when I first started ELAC, I was having a lot of medical issues. I was in and out of the hospital.
“I was up and down but I am doing better now,” Sawyer said.
Despite her struggles, Sawyer has done well, according to her child development professor Brigette Michelle Thompson. Thompson considers Sawyer to be a consistent, determined and very conscientious student.
“It takes a special person to choose to be a mascot,” Thompson said.
A few years before being Avalanche, Sawyer worked at Universal Studios as a character and at a Little Caesar’s as the pizza mascot Caesar.
Sawyer continued her mini career as mascot naturally.
Sawyer also worked as a vendor for Staples Center, where she got the chance to work at the Grammy and MTV awards.
“I used to work as a vendor at Staples Center for two years,” Sawyer said. That’s where she met Hell’s Kitchen star Gordon Ramsay.
“He’s a sweetheart,” Sawyer said.
In her free time, Sawyer likes to watch “Family Guy” and “Hell’s Kitchen” on Hulu.