By Thomas Sellers Jr.
A little boy was born in Santo Tomas, Hidalgo in Mexico 18 years ago.
On that day his parent Dulce Reyes and Luis Rangel couldn’t have imagined their son Luis Carrillo would one day grow up to be the valedictorian of Millington Central High School.
But once Carrillo arrived in Flag City, the support system multiplied in guiding him to the top of the Class of 2021. On Thursday night, Carrillo will take his rightful place on the MCHS Commencement stage to give the valedictorian speech. From the faith his first high school counselor Anne Allen had in him to take three science classes simultaneously to instructors like Watkins, Sprunger and Rutledge challenging him, Carrillo said his achievement is validation on many levels.
Carrillo’s journey to the top of the Class of 2021 started in Mexico living in nice homes, achieving academic success and fostering strong family values. But there was corruption and limitations for the well-educated women in his family.
Leaving Mexico by the age of 5, Carrillo remembers those issues but also some innocent flashbacks of his homeland.
“I remember a lot of things about Mexico,” he said. “That was definitely one of my favorite things because I would steal food from the market. I would steal things like pork grinds and candy. It got to a point it wasn’t really stealing. The stand keepers knew me so well they looked the other way.”
The cute child who won over the hearts of the stand keepers had to grow up fast when his father made the tough decision to leave Mexico.
“My dad ended up in Florida by accident,” Carrillo recalled. “He came across to the U.S., he didn’t have a job or secure employment. He just ran into someone who just happen to be coming across. He said, ‘Hey, I have this job in Florida. Do you want to come?’ That’s how we ended up over here. Ever since then, every opportunity we have, we take. You have to take risks – good risks.”
Rangel’s risk for his family took them to Millington next. Arriving in Tennessee, Carrillo was socially awkward having to learn a new language and adjust to different surroundings. The boy who started speaking Spanish before he could walk, stepped into a new reality.
“When I got here in May 2007, I enrolled in Kindergarten in August 2008,” he recalled. “My first day of Kindergarten I remember I cried. I remember thinking, ‘Who are these people? Why are they white?’ It was culture shock. I have no issues with racism but I grew up in a household in which everybody was of color.”
Carrillo’s natural gifts started to assist him in his new world. Coming for two scholars, he gravitated to science and math. Carrillo’s English was perfected quickly and those new looking people around him welcomed him.
“I have to admit my list of close friends I can narrow down to two people Dalton Fitzgerald and Ann Howard,” he said. “He’s always been there for me, you have to stay on track. Even when he’s like, ‘I don’t want to do this… we have to do this.’ I can be complaining, complaining, complaining, at the end of the day he’s had my back to keep me going and motivated. And I hope I’ve had his back to keep him motivated as well.”
Fitzgerald will share the stage with his best friend as the salutatorian of the class. Carrillo’s other best friend just happen to be the 2020 Homecoming Queen.
“Another good friend of mine is Ann,” he said. “Just because she’s always doing something. I respect her work ethic. It’s something I admire and try to follow through myself.”
Howard will pursue her future dreams at the University of Health Science and Pharmacy St. Louis while playing softball. Carrillo has spent some time in athletics at MCHS as part of the Trojan Soccer team.
His next educational step will be at Northwestern University. He will head to Illinois with a 4.44 grade point average and 35 on the ACT.
With the support system at school of close friends, counselors like Ashleigh Currie and various teachers, Carrillo was able to live up to the expectations that were bestowed upon him after he settled in.
“Consistent great expectations from people after that,” he said, “greater expectations for myself too. Most of the time, I talked to my parents and they have great hope for me, great expectations and they really admire me. Every time they say that, I think my expectations for myself might be higher. It’s a little frustrating at time but it comes with being the exceptional student.”
Words from his teacher Ms. Rutledge inspired him during challenging times, “It sucks to be smart because you’re expected to do everything right. We’re not perfect but we’re expected to be.”
The boy from Mexico has excelled in his new home and has a bright future ahead of him. In a moment of reflection, Carrillo has some words of encouragement for the next child who arrives trying to achieve the American Dream.
“Keep reaching for more,” he concluded. “This is a marvelous country with tons and tons of opportunities. Many which won’t be available to people in my situation legally and economically and physically and socially. Dozens and dozens of opportunities are out there you’ve just got to keep reach for them.”