Let’s talk about overcoming obstacles with someone who’s been there, done that.
"My father was murdered when I was five years old,” said Santiago Correa, a senior at Westland Hialeah High School.
It happened back in Colombia, and the tragedy thrust Santiago’s family into poverty. His suddenly widowed mother had to find a way to manage.
"And for almost 13 years, like from that moment that happened until I came here, it was a big challenge for us, so coming here, we came with just enough money for my mom to pay for her residency," Santiago explained.
Now let’s talk about succeeding against the odds. Santiago came to Westland Hialeah High in 2014, a 10th grader who spoke no English. Since then, he’s learned a new language, took the hardest classes, worked a part-time job, enrolled in the Early College program, and this year he will graduate with a high school diploma and an AA degree from Miami-Dade College and one more thing: he earned a full scholarship to complete his college studies at Syracuse University. Santiago puts the “work” into Students Working at Greatness.
"Since I came here, like, I've been trying my best to get A's and to learn and to take advantage of every single thing that I've been able to because there is so much here, so much help, that kids in other countries don't have," Santiago said.
"It is quite a story, considering that he came in 10th grade," said Santiago’s college advisor, Myrna Bromfield. "I sure hope other students look at his example and try to follow his footsteps."
As president of the Math Club at school, Santiago also spends hours of his time tutoring his peers, who see him as a role model.
"I admire his dedication to the work that he puts, not only into the academics but also in everything that he does in his daily life," said Juan Calderon, one of Santiago’s classmates.
Obviously, Santiago has come a long from his struggles in Colombia, but there’s much more on his agenda. He wants to major in engineering at Syracuse and then one day, start up his own company.
"Also, I want to give back to my community, and I think by having a corporation I will create jobs but not only that, I want to sponsor kids like myself that have overcome so many challenges in their life and they have gone through everything and are still standing on their feet strong and going for what they want to do in their lives," he said.
Santiago knows that in a school with many immigrant kids, he sets the bar high, and he has advice for his fellow strivers.
"Set your goals clear so you know where you're heading,” Santiago said. "I've learned lessons in life that have taught me to be strong and determined and I grabbed my dreams, I hold them tight."
And he’s not letting go of those dreams any time soon.