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Academic scholarships from Chattanooga State Community College. SunTrust Bank scholarships. English, Science, Math and Beta Club awards. The Urban League National Achievers Honor Society. And finally, the Daughter of the American Revolution Good Citizen Award.
That was the list of Lucero Castillo’s awards and accomplishments at the 2017 Senior Awards Day. The class of 2017 graduating senior of Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy held her head high as she accepted the awards. The recognition signified her transformation as a student.
“The DAR citizen award stood out the most to me,” Castillo says. “The teachers and staff combined to choose who had the potential out of all of the senior class—and they chose me. All the work I put in showed them that I deserved this award, which is pretty neat, especially with highly competitive classmates.”
Castillo’s story at CGLA started in sixth grade. She says she really started working hard in her eighth grade year at the urging of her then math teacher, Mr. Rodriguez.
“He said that it was time for me to make some changes. In middle school I didn’t work as hard,” she says. “I realized that I couldn’t just sit around having fun. It’s about getting work done. To be able to go to the next step, you have to give it your all in high school.”
Throughout her academic career, Castillo faced challenges. She says her teachers and mentors helped her along the way.
“In elementary school I felt labeled,” she says. “That played a big role in my life because there was a point in time when I thought those people labeling me might be right. I started thinking that as an undocumented citizen I wouldn’t be able to pursue post-secondary education.”
In her junior year at CGLA, Castillo travelled back to Mexico in order to gain her residency in the United States. With the support of her teachers, she maintained her grades and work while on her trip.
“Never let a label define who you are or define your future. I overcame that barrier,” Castillo says. “My high school teacher Ms. Gibeault played a big role. When I was assigned as her mentee, she put her teacher title to the side and became like a mother to me. When I wanted to give up, she told me it would be worth it and benefit me in the long run.”
Castillo, who will be the first in her family to go to college, is attending Chattanooga State before transferring to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She plans to major in biochemistry and pursue a career in international pediatrics.
“Don’t let your past influence your future,” she says. “I started as an undocumented student from a low-income family. Break the barrier. Be the first one so you can leave a stepping stone for your little siblings, who are always watching.”
In the mean time, Castillo will serve as a translator at CGLA and continue her job as a nanny. She says she likes influencing young people. And her final words of wisdom for all students?
“Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you can’t do it.”
Congratulations to Lucero Castillo and the graduating class of 2017. Keep working hard, ladies!