“All throughout high school, I just thought, ‘I don’t want to do a speech,’” Valeria Villarino said about being tied at the top of her class rankings during all four years at Lourdes Catholic High School. “I still don’t want to do a speech, but it’s about what it represents.”
A few weeks before graduation, Villarino was named co-valedictorian of the Class of 2019, but it was a reward that came after a few obstacles along the way.
Having attended school in Mexico from kindergarten through sixth grade, she recounted that the thought of transferring to Lourdes initially made her a bit uneasy.
“I was used to being the new girl, so I kind of knew what was going to happen, but I didn’t know what to expect from an American school,” Villarino said.
One of the people that had the biggest impact on her time at Lourdes, she said, was former math teacher Yolanda Leon, who pushed her beyond her comfort zone.
“When I first got here, I was not up to the level in math and English, so she gave me my first C,” Villarino said, adding that she wasn’t the type of person to be satisfied with an average letter grade, so she made sure that it was the last C she ever got at Lourdes.
Her motivation to constantly strive to do better, Villarino said, came from her parents’ close attention to her work in school.
“I had high expectations from my parents, both of them, so I was expected to do good in school since I was young,” she said, adding: “Even though they pressured me and motivated me to do better, they also reminded me that I’m young and I should enjoy life.”
Outside of school, she made time for fun by playing on a volleyball team in Nogales, Sonora. She also found comfort in the close-knit friendships with her school classmates.
“I’m going to miss growing up in this school. Everyone knows each other, and our generation, we’re closer than most classes would be,” she said.
Villarino added that the small class of only 18 students also made for a better working environment for her, as she learns better in small groups.
“I don’t know how it’s going to be in college,” she said about enrolling at Pima Community College next fall, where she will enter the pre-engineering program.
Her long-term goal, which came about from her interest in medicine and her participation in a science-related summer program, is to study biomedical engineering at the University of Arizona and work with the robotics of human anatomy.
“I have never lived out of Nogales, so it’s going to be a new experience for me and I’m excited for it,” Villarino said. “There’s going to be a trial in there, but I’ll manage.”