So she took the assignment home, thought about it, and used her love for drawing to come up with some images that described herself, her passions and her family.
But when it came time to turn in her artwork to the Anaheim Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program and NHL Hockey is for Everyone goalie mask art contest, Velarde figured it was a long shot she would win. In fact, she stated as much.
"I probably have a 2% chance of winning," Velarde wrote in the written component of her artwork submission, "but GO DUCKS!"
Based on her prediction, it's not hard to imagine the shock Velarde felt when Ducks staff members showed up to her classroom in January to announce that out of 600 artwork entries, her design was the grand prize winner.
"I didn't think it would happen," Velarde said with a smile. "But I'm happy."
The art contest was part of the Anaheim Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program's school assembly series titled, "Behind the Mask: Storytelling Through Art." Now in its second year, the concept behind the assembly was born one year ago out of an idea shared by Ducks Fan Development Manager and former Team USA women's Olympic goalie Molly Schaus and Ducks goaltending coach Sudarshan Maharaj.
As Schaus was looking for ways to expand the Ducks S.C.O.R.E. assembly series to further support the NHL's Hockey is for Everyone initiative and STEAM concepts (science, technology, engineering, arts, math), she and Maharaj came up with the unique aspect of goalie mask artwork as the perfect platform to not only put the spotlight on diversity and inclusivity, but provide a way for Schaus to share her personal story with local students in a meaningful way.
"This assembly program has allowed me to connect my current role with the Ducks with my previous hockey career and Olympic journey," Schaus said. "The artwork on a goalie mask is such a unique tradition in hockey, and allowing students to think more about their story, what makes them unique and how they would symbolize that in their own helmet design connects perfectly with the NHL's Hockey is for Everyone initiative."
The assembly aims to educate students on the history of the hockey goaltender mask, how the mask is a creative way for the athletes to express their personality and how those mask designs align with the Hockey is for Everyone purpose.
Schaus and the Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program made visits last December to three local schools, including McFadden Intermediate in Santa Ana, Rolling Hills Elementary in Fullerton and Greentree Elementary in Irvine. This year, Schaus was joined by former Mighty Ducks goaltender and Fox Sports West analyst Guy Hebert, and the two spoke to the students about the evolution of the goalie mask and their own personal journeys on how the mask's blank canvas became a way to express what is important to them.
"It's great to be able to educate the kids on the sport I love," said Hebert, who was an art major in college. "Being a goaltender is much different than being any other player on the team. With the goalie mask, and having it be so personal, it's a great segue for the kids to think about what is important to them in their lives."
After the presentation, the students at each of the schools were prompted by Schaus to think about how they would share their own personal stories through the design of a hockey goalie mask. The kids took time to draw the people, places and things that were important to them, and their artwork submissions were entered into a contest.
The grand prize that was up for grabs? The opportunity for the winning student's design to be made into a special mask that Ducks goaltender Ryan Miller would wear during warmups at an Anaheim Ducks home game. Schaus and Miller have a connection that dates back to when they both represented Team USA as goaltenders in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Six students were selected as finalists, including Drew Blanding and Stevie Reger from Rolling Hills Elementary, Leo Ramirez from McFadden Intermediate, and along with Velarde, Stefany Yang and Jessica Panusis from Greentree Elementary.
When Velarde was greeted by Ducks staff members the day she was announced as the grand prize winner, she got the chance to sit down with a member of the Ducks graphic design department to explain her approach and refine the details ahead of it being produced on the mask.
Velarde's design included some lighthearted elements of her personality, such as her love for gymnastics, an emoji eating various candies, "because candy is my favorite food" and a lightning bolt, "because I have a lot of energy and I like to run around."
But the 10-year old's design also featured some reflective parts of what is important to her, including an image of an eagle, which is her "spirit animal," a star to represent her bright smile and a tree that reminds her of her family.
"My favorite family quote is, 'Like branches on a tree, we all grow in different directions, but our roots remain as one,'" Velarde wrote on her submission. Her family members named on each of the roots include her mother Cheryl, her father Dwight, her 12-year old sister Genevieve and her twin brother Jonathan.
On March 1, Velarde, along with the five other finalists and their families, were hosted at Honda Center to watch the Ducks face off against the Vegas Golden Knights. The six students were featured in the Community Spotlight pregame on-ice ceremony, and Velarde watched in awe as Miller, who served as the Ducks backup goaltender that night, skated out onto the ice for warmups wearing the mask she had designed.
As part of her evening at the game, Velarde participated in both on-camera and radio interviews where she explained her mask design and her excitement about the project. The fourth grader's first-ever Ducks game experience could not have been any better.
"It's very much her," said Cheryl Velarde of her daughter's mask design. "I love how she was able to articulate what was in her mind and heart into words and art."
After the game, the students were able to meet Miller, and he brought the mask with Velarde's design to her. It was the first time she had seen it up close. The netminder chatted with the students about their designs and thanked them for attending the game and supporting the Ducks.
"A collaboration like this is such an awesome opportunity for our students," said Greentree Elementary principal, Tamara Brown. "The Ducks tied in everything we are about here at Greentree. And Diana's design reflects just who she is. It's all about kids connecting with a professional team and using their creativity to do that. As a principal, I'm super proud. We couldn't be more grateful to the Ducks."
For more information on the Anaheim Ducks S.C.O.R.E. Program, visit ducksscore.com.
And for more information on the NHL's Hockey is for Everyone initiative, visit nhl.com/hockeyisforeveryone.