Editor’s Note: This week, thousands of HISD seniors will receive their diplomas during graduation ceremonies across the district. Many of our students have overcome challenging circumstances during their educational journeys. We are sharing a few of their stories this week.
When Salutatorian Joe Salazar entered Milby High School, his studies lagged and he was without motivation.
That’s when Sgt. First Class (Ret.) Eric Hopkins and Col. (Ret.) Charles Benson stepped in with a new challenge — Milby’s JROTC program.
“They really were a big part of my life,” Joe said. “By using military customs and discipline, they helped me break away from shyness and made me challenge myself.”
The two JROTC instructors weren’t the only ones who took notice of the future biomedical engineer.
Though they had three kids of their own, his godparents Laura and Raul Gutierrez, took him in for two years and continued to give support. His best friend, Arturo Alejandro, became the brother he’d always wished he’d had, and they pushed each other to be the best they could be. Now Arturo has a full scholarship to LeHigh University.
“I really want to thank everyone who has helped me throughout. These people helped me understand the true value of family, not just by blood. How true family are those who are loyal to you and are there for you to the very end,” Joe said.
Milby teachers gave him the structure and support that he needed to start taking his studies seriously.
Joe’s teacher, Christen “Brooke” Skeen, pulled Joe aside and told him that if he just applied himself, he could even be his class valedictorian or salutatorian.
Though Joe doubted it at first, her words gave him a goal. He would graduate near the top of his class, go to college, and one day, help mobility-hindered people through bio-medical engineering.
So far, Joe Salazar has exceeded that goal. His list of school firsts is inspiring — first to receive a full scholarship at the college of his choice, first to go to Boys State and place, the Rotary Club of Harrisburg scholarship and a Citgo scholarship.
He will go Colby College in Maine on a full scholarship from Questbridge as part of a dual-degree program. He will spend four years studying there, then two years at Columbia University.
Joe Salazar wants to thank everyone else who has helped him throughout high school, whether they be related by blood or by heart. A special shout-out to Wanda Wamsley, for her love and support.