Bellaire High School senior Bianca Rubio-Castaneda says she first joined the JROTC program in ninth grade because she thought the uniforms looked cool. She didn’t realize then how much of an impact the program would have on her life.
Last week, she learned she is one of 29 students this year out of more than 30,000 candidates in the world to receive the Legion of Valor Bronze Cross for Achievement, the second highest honor awarded to a JROTC cadet. Rubio-Castaneda, a cadet lieutenant colonel and cadet commander of the Bellaire Army JROTC Battalion, tried to hold back tears after being presented the award at the October HISD Board Meeting.
“No one told me I was getting this award, and it’s such an amazing honor,” she said. “I’m grateful to have the support of my school, my peers, and my ROTC directors. They’ve always believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.”
Sponsored by the Legion of Valor and chartered by the U.S. Congress, the award is presented annually for achievement of scholastic excellence in military and academic subjects. Rubio-Castaneda’s name will now be entered into the Congressional Record and stored permanently at the Library of Congress. She is the first JROTC cadet in HISD to receive the award in 12 years.
Her 4.33 grade point average, leadership potential, and active role in student organizations led to her nomination. In addition to JROTC, Rubio-Castaneda is a member of the National Honor Society, Bellaire student government, and the Arabic Club. She is studying Arabic in Bellaire’s language magnet program, and is a member of the Muslim Student Association. She also organized a student chapter of the American Veterans Association with the focus of providing assistance for disabled veterans in her community.
“She’s aiming high and has lofty goals,” said Dennis O’Driscoll, senior army instructor for the Bellaire Army JROTC. “Just for her peers to see her get awarded for her hard work, it will inspire them to strive for more in life, too.”
Upon graduation, Rubio-Castaneda is interested in attending the U.S. Naval Academy, Rice University, or Stanford University to study aerospace engineering. She will be the first in her family to attend college.
“I am so proud of her,” said her mother, Gloria. “She’s always been so smart. I didn’t go to college, but my daughter will, and I know she can become whatever she wants.”