There were not many Spanish-speaking students attending Fairview, one of Skokie’s middle schools, in the 2012-2013 graduating class. Amongst the three or four students that spoke Spanish, none took English Language Learning (ELL) classes, leaving senior Sebastián Villegas Mejía as the only ELL student.
With Villegas just immigrating to America that year from Spain, it’s not difficult to imagine how challenging the transition could have been had it not been for a friendly and understanding class. With that one year of experience in America, Villegas would have to make another transition, this one taking him a mile away from Fairview, to Niles West. As an incoming freshman, Villegas made the trip to West around February to meet with his assigned counselor.
To Villegas’s discontent, she would recommend him to take all ELL classes. Villegas was then enrolled into ELL Literature, Grammar, Reading, and Global Studies, but successfully refused to take ELL Biology.
“I knew I could do better than that; I had been doing better than that at Fairview,” Villegas said.
As far as freshman year goes, Villegas’s was full of movement. First, Villegas was moved from Honors Geometry to Honors Algebra 2, then halfway through the first semester, his ELL teachers moved him up from ELL 2 to ELL 3. He was also moved into a regular freshmen Global Studies class and got bumped up to AP Spanish from the Heritage Speakers class. In his second semester, Villegas made a deal with one of his ELL teachers: Villegas would get out of ELL classes if he’d promise to enroll into Honors English his sophomore year. He’d keep that promise after moving out his last two ELL classes into a regular freshman English class immediately his second semester.
“I went from having one Honors class and one AP class (my Algebra 2 and Spanish classes) my freshman year to having Honors English, Honors Math, Honors Chemistry, and two AP classes. I did really good in those classes – I knew I could do it even though my old counselor didn’t think I had the potential,” Villegas said.
Villegas didn’t just do “good” in those classes, though. He was the student every other classmate went to for help on a confusing problem — not just because of his undoubted knowledge, but also the patience he displays. On account for how often he offered his help to his classmates, it’s not a surprise he volunteered to become a tutor at the Literacy Center or that he was recognized in the Principal’s Recognition Breakfast last Tuesday for his efforts in the Lit Center.
The now-Tutor Leader would go on to show his leadership skills elsewhere. Yes, he strived where his counselor didn’t think he’d be able to, but improving in academics wasn’t the only thing Villegas did: when given the option to either play soccer, a sport he grew up with, or to run cross country, Villegas put the two to the test. He participated in both summer camps in the summer of 2014 and decided he would make his choice based on which practice he was most excited to go to. Ultimately, he chose to run cross country during his sophomore year and has since been named the captain of the XC team with a leadership role in this spring’s Track and Field season.
Close friend Marco Alanis met Villegas during their freshman year in English class, and then in Track. It was their sophomore year when the two started to become good friends as well as “running buddies.” They’ve talked to each other about visiting one another in college and getting some runs in together after the pair graduate this year. When asked if Villegas has affected his life, Alanis immediately responded “yes.”
“Without him I don’t think I’d be the student I am, because he’s helped me out with a lot academically – but not just that –running, too. He just pushes me a lot,” Alanis said.
Villegas’s accomplishments don’t end there. He and his running mates joined the Ping Pong Club this year. The club’s sponsor, Jerry Pope (you may know him as the college advisor of D219), has gotten to know Villegas through the club as well as with the process of applying to universities this year. When Villegas speaks of Mr. Pope you can tell that there isn’t just a teacher-student relationship but a friendship as well, and vice versa.
“I wish I had just an inkling of his intellect. He’s very motivated, very driven, has got an amazing ability to manage time, an incredible sense of responsibility,” Pope said. “This is all like a shoutout, [but] kudos to him. Maybe I had a little part of directing him, but the reality was that he’s a very motivated individual who was researching colleges on his own. He’d come to me with questions when looking at scholarship opportunities and everything else. It made my job easier,” Pope said.
Back in December when Villegas posted that he’d gotten accepted to the University of Chicago, person after person congratulated him on Facebook, but none of his classmates were surprised. There have been classmates who have outright boasted about Villegas’s intelligence, such as senior Steven Hristov, who’s had about four classes with Villegas since sophomore year. It wasn’t just close friends like Alanis or mentors like Mr. Pope who took notice of Villegas’s work ethic, but also regular classmates like Hristov, who recognized how high Villegas set the bar.
Villegas will be attending the University of Chicago starting the Fall of 2017 with a large scholarship from the university.