When Ivy Delgadillo received an assignment in seventh grade to write about the person she most admired, her choice of subject was easy: her dad.
When she graduates from eighth grade Friday from St. Jeanne de Lestonnac School in Tustin, she will wear her father's yellow and blue detective's lanyards over her white graduation gown in tribute to a life cut short.
Her dad, Mike Delgadillo, was a veteran of the Costa Mesa Police Department for more than 30 years when he died March 6 following a single-car, off-duty crash at the age of 57.
"I think that even though he's gone, I can still feel all of his qualities in the weirdest times," she said.
Those qualities? He was brave, passionate and loving, she said, adding that her three siblings embody some of his best characteristics.
Take older sister Sierra, 19. She has her dad's humor. Brother Noah, 16, is strong. Brother Quinton, 21, is smart.
"I'd ask my dad about the weirdest things, and he'd know the answer right away — same with Quinton," she said.
Since her father's death, Ivy, 14, has had many dreams about him.
In one, "I asked him how heaven was, and he said, 'It's going really well,'" she said.
Ivy will attend Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana in the fall and hopes to become a detective in the Costa Mesa Police Department, like her father.
"I think it's awesome. I don't know what her dad would think," CMPD Officer Mike Cohen said with a laugh. He added a moment later, "I think he'd be real proud of her."
"I think she has the same drive as her dad," said Cohen, who worked with the elder Delgadillo since 1986. "She always struck me as that kid that wants to strive for excellence and really tries hard to do that, and she got that from her dad, definitely."
Cohen will attend Ivy's graduation, and the two plan to bowl together on Father's Day.
Her mom, Desir'ee Delgadillo, said she too supports her daughter's dream of becoming a police officer.
"Ivy's decision to pursue a career in law enforcement was greeted with support and admiration," she said. "Anyone that decides to serve our community, or country, is a special human being."
When asked whether she worries about her daughter's choice to follow her father's legacy into a dangerous profession, Desir'ee Delgadillo relayed the sentiments of so many parents.
"I worry about my children when I open my eyes in the morning, worry about them when I close them at night … no matter what their occupation is," she said. "… I believe her choice to work in the field and environment that her dad did seems to fill the void left in her heart and brings a smile to her face."
Ivy Delgadillo said she has already applied her detective skills — on some of her classmates.
"All my friends know," Ivy said. "My friend Emily, she never knew what I was doing, but she was like, 'How do you know when I'm always lying!' I just catch on really quick."
Over the summer, Ivy plans to participate in the Costa Mesa Police Department's teen academy.
"Ivy is a wonderful expression of Detective Mike Delgadillo's life," said Police Chief Tom Gazsi. "For many years she's developed a wonderful relationship with Mike's colleagues. She's loved and adored by the department. Whether she, in fact, pursues law enforcement, I'm quite confident that she'll carry on the great legacy of her dad."
Ivy draws strength from her father's experience of losing his brother.
"His brother passed away, and he used to tell me that he misses him all the time but no matter what, he still has a life ahead of him," Ivy said. "Curveballs are thrown at you in life, but you still have to keep going. So that's what I say to myself all the time. When I'm in my bed and I really miss him and there's time where I'm crying and I just say, 'Dad wants to see me succeed and keep on going'."