So what’s it like to be a recent immigrant in an American high school?
“It’s really hard because you have to adapt to a whole different environment,” said Dalila Valdes, a senior at Coral Park High School in Westchester.
Dalila moved from Cuba to Spain at age 11, and then to Miami four years later. She has adapted so spectacularly well to life in the United States that she’s earned a full scholarship to M.I.T., and she didn’t even know what the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was when she was living in Madrid.
“I wanted to study physics, so I just Googled, best university to study physics, and M.I.T. popped up, and I’m going there!” Dalila said with a laugh.
Dalila enrolled at Coral Park in her sophomore year. She quickly picked up English and in her junior year decided to buck her counselor’s advice and challenge herself by taking a lot of AP classes. How many? Eight out of her eight classes. An entire schedule of Advanced Placement, college-level classes.
“I really like science and math but also there was a psychology class and chemistry and statistics and all that stuff, I learn,” Dalila said. “I feel really good for doing that last year because you fill yourself with knowledge and you understand the world more.”
She’s the rare student who enjoys learning for learning’s sake.
“Since I was little everything I want to do is like, just learn, and uncover the mysteries of the universe, that sounds really romantic but it’s really beautiful, it’s a really good path to take,” Dalila said.
Dalila is the kind of kid who just contain herself when it comes to physics and math, she loves those subject so much, she spends three days a week tutoring her peers after school.
“I love math, I see it some way that it’s so beautiful so I think, I want to transmit to other people the way I see it, how elegant and how everything makes sense and everything goes together,” Dalila explained.
She sets the bar of achievement high, and Dalila has inspired her classmates to take harder classes.
“I did it because she did it and that inspired me to do it as well, that gave me confidence,” said fellow senior Sandra Jardines.
“I think that’s another thing that everybody sees in her, the power of, if I can make a difference I will do it,” said Borja Carrillo, a classmate who says he, too, upped his academic game because of Dalila’s influence.
Sandra and Borja are recent immigrants, just like Dalila. She’s an example of what is possible.
“Yeah she’s my role model, I came from Cuba one year ago and I heard the story of the girl from Spain and she did all this stuff and I wanted to be like her,” said classmate Catherine Santana.
To say that Dalila has impressed her teachers would be a massive understatement.
“Her desire is to get the Nobel Prize in physics one day and I don’t doubt that she will,” said physics teacher Ricardo Markland.
So Dalila plans on researching theoretical physics at M.I.T.
“I have the safe thing that I can also apply my physics major to engineering in case I don’t find a job uncovering the mysteries of the universe!” Dalila said, laughing.
She’s learned another crucial lesson: it’s always good to have a backup plan.