Sergio Ortiz remembers his first day of school in Alabama and feeling overwhelmed by his inability to speak English and communicate with his peers.
“Three months into school, with me being miserable and not wanting to be there, my ESL (English-second language) teacher came in and she really pushed me, to not only learn English, but to excel and always strive to be the top of my class,” says Ortiz.
Ortiz’s family immigrated to the United States from Mexico.
The Russell County High School Senior says he not only overcame the language barrier, but made the most of his education.
Ortiz participated in various clubs and organizations, played sports, and was a member of the band.
“Band was something that I hold really near to me, because it was place where language didn’t matter, where we all learned a new language, the language that was music,” says Ortiz.
Ortiz is now graduating third in his class with a 4.65 GPA.
The honors student watched as his efforts paid off, and as college acceptance letters and scholarship offers came in, he kept the letters in a special box.
“The box was the first pair of shoes that I bought with my own money that I worked for to get with my own hands, and so I thought it was the perfect box to keep stuff in. Really, when I got here, I took all the stuff out and it was a big pile of letters from different universities.”
Ortiz says he watched as his family worked to obtain United States citizenship, and that fighting stereotypes in the Hispanic community motivates him.
However, he says it’s his father that made him strive for greatness.
“As a little kid, I really didn’t understand, because I wanted him to be proud of me, and just take me into his arms and be like, ‘Son, I’m glad that I’m your dad. I’m glad that I could raise a kid like you who I can always be proud of.’ But, that wasn’t the case, and that just made me work harder to make, not only my dad proud, but the rest of my family, proud.”
Ortiz now has scholarship offers amounting to over $814,368 from eleven universities.
“My dad started crying when I found out how much money I had, he was brought to tears,” says Ortiz, “I finally got that special moment where he told me he was proud that I was his son.”
Ortiz says he is proud to crush stereotypes about the Hispanic community, and plans to purse a future in the medical field where he can truly give back.
“It feels really good to like prove those people wrong and prove that we aren’t here to take stuff from America, but to give back.”