Keann Castillo - California State University, San Bernardino
In His Own Words
I firmly believe in the philosophy of a human being's capability of self-improvement; that no matter what difficulties a person may have, their ability to rise cannot be taken away. I've been through many of difficulties, and I continue to keep my head high and keep an optimistic attitude.
I've had a few life experiences that has greatly shaped who I am today. One of the many, includes my childhood living in poverty. We had no place to shelter ourselves from the moist, rainy weather and we were always cold and wet. The larger problem was food, which was always scarce. Most of my family were fragile and sickly, and as a result, none of us were able to work. We'd go weeks without eating and we spent most of our days begging for money so we could buy a bag of rice. Although my childhood was challenging, it built my resiliency against difficult situations.g, I can accomplish even more than I can ever imagine.
My father however, educated himself which allowed him to be hired on a job in California. He soon moved to America and started working desperately to support both himself and his family at home. He worked many days without rest; constantly working alone. He felt the need to be with his son, so at the age of eight, I came to live with him in America. We began living together, in a country full of strangers, and no one else to depend on, other than ourselves. We were alone, together.
Growing up in a foreign country was difficult. My father and I had a thick Filipino accent that would constantly have everyone mocking or making fun of us. It was especially difficult at school, as many children continued to belittle me for my accent. My father constantly worked, and I was home alone most of the time. I would read, listen to music, and watch American television shows to understand the language, mannerisms, and American culture. In less than a year, I passed my school's English proficiency test required for non-English speakers, as an advanced English speaker. At that point, I began to take school seriously.
Up to that point, my father was the only man I trusted in America, and when he suddenly told me that he would soon be serving time behind bars, I was terrified. With no warning, I was immediately thrown out into the world with virtually nothing; I was broke. I continued to maintain my grades for that semester, but as I quickly ran out of money as the second semester neared in, I knew I had to do something different so that I could support myself. I quickly picked up two jobs and worked every hour of the week so that I could make enough for rent, food, and school fees. I managed to survive, at the expense of my grades dropping.
I continued to work two jobs into the summer, and I was drained. I was able to move in with a friend's family for my senior year. School came again, and although I still worked several hours a day, I began studying just as much. With the new balance between work and school, my grades began to skyrocket.
Shortly after second semester began, the feeling of security I finally had in a home was taken away from me, and I was forced out to the dark streets once again. I joined a gym so I had somewhere to shower, and if I worked too late to get to the library, I did my homework with a flashlight in the car. Sleeping in a car night after night made my back hurt badly. Another hardship on me at this time is that my father was released from prison and began asking me for money. I began missing school to support us both.
But, after spending time with some older youth who have been in a homeless situation, and talking to my school counselors, I decided I needed to focus on my education.
To live a better life, I'm willing to pursue the best educational opportunities. Although I might have had a slight hiccup in my grades due to some hardship, I ask that you not see it as a downfall, but instead perceive it as my capability of overcoming difficult challenges.
I've been living in a men's shelter and am close to graduating high school. Becoming independent at a young age is difficult.
Education is capable of increasing your confidence, which in turn allows you to develop skills. Education can help me grow mentally, elevate my career, and brand of my success. By studying, I can accomplish even more than I can ever imagine.
Before he graduated high school, Keann traveled to Sacramento as a San Bernardino County Youth Ambassador to use his voice to articulate the needs of homeless students and the struggles they face to elected officials.
Keann is currently enrolled in classes full-time at California State University, San Bernardino and living on campus. He is grateful for the summer programs that allowed him to get housing on campus prior to the fall start of the school year.
After hearing him speak at one of these programs, a dean of the university offered Keann a job in the marketing department on campus, and he is enjoying that new job. He is currently taking his undergraduate classes but plans to study Physics and hopes to get his PhD in future.
Keann is the recipient of a Shine a Light Scholarship and a Ramos Family Endowed Scholarship, both of which are scholarships managed by Children's Fund.
"Education can do much more for me and I'm willing to do any means necessary to become smarter."
- Keann Castillo
"Keann doesn't tell you when he needs help, he is determined to get things done on his own. However, when you ask if he needs it, he is humble and grateful and will accept it."
-Lina Suliafu, high school counselor