Youth of the Month Essays (2018-19)

Zaida Pineda – December 2018

Something that is always on my mind is “how can I make contributions that will move society forward and how can I leave my dent?” Currently I’m working my way up toward leaving my dent into the world.

I was fortunate enough to be raised in a household and be surrounded by friends, where volunteering and helping others was very important. I remember going with my mom to Feed my Starving Children when I was no older than eight years old. This experience of packing meals such as rice and vegetables with other volunteers, which would then be shipped out to other countries in need is what triggered my passion for volunteerism. My first time there was so much fun, it was there where I was able to create a bond with people I’ve never met, whether they were 10 or 60, all of them had a story, just like the people who were receiving the food.

Fast forward a couple years, there was a massive snowstorm that hit my hometown, school had gotten canceled for about three days, it was amazing. My friends and I had a lot of time on our hands, so, we grabbed our shovels and hit the streets looking for driveways to shovel. We aimed toward houses with owners who we knew were not capable of shoveling their own driveway. At times we would shovel driveways without even asking the owner, probably not a smart move to do now that I think about it, but nothing bad ever happened and all the owners were very kind and thankful. As I grew older more opportunities to/for volunteering occurred.

Sophomore year I chose to go to a meeting for Clean Power Lake County with my mom, this organization helps the environment in my community be cleaner. Their main focus was and still is, to shut down a coal plant that emits dangerous toxins into the air. At that meeting, a lady from the Sierra Club, an environmental organization, approached me and asked if I wanted to apply for an internship that helps youth make the environment better. She talked to me about the program, I did some research and later applied and was accepted. During the summer, I went to a cabin in Wisconsin with four other girls that I did not know. There we did a lot of leadership activities and talked a lot about our future. The program also exposed me to a lot of different environmental parks, museums, and facilities. So if you ever have a question about Cranes, I’m your girl to ask. I genuinely learned a lot about the environment during that trip; whenever I see a flower or a stream, I have some background on its function.

All of a sudden it was my junior year, this is the year where everything went by so fast. It was my first year having AP classes, so naturally, I took 4. It was challenging, but I made it through and was alright. That year, I was accepted into Panther Crew, which is a mentor program for incoming freshmen. As mentors, we were given a group of freshman before school started, where we got to do ice-breaking activities and introduce them to the school. I remember my group so vividly. They were very quiet at the beginning, no one wanted to talk or say anything. Then I showed them the cookies and said a couple of jokes here and there. It was probably the jokes that got them talking. Being a mentor taught me how to make others feel welcomed and comfortable. I also started volunteering as a juror at Teen Court which is an alternative to the traditional justice system for first-time youth offenders ages 10 – 18. Teen Court sentences are determined by a volunteer jury of teen peers.  Successful completion prevents the youth from having a court record for the offense. Teen court is great way for me to gain different perspectives through hearing other people’s stories and understanding why the way they act or have acted in their life.

Today, I am a senior in high school. As I’m finishing my last year at Round Lake, I’ve remained pretty consistent with my volunteering. I am still in Teen court, Panther Crew, and NHS, as well as student council. This year I became secretary for NHS, so we’ve recently been writing up new rules that’ll keep attendance high and consistent. I’m definitely trying to attend many of the events our school has as well as telling my freshman to attend, because i want them to enjoy every moment and not miss out.

As for my future, I plan to major in film and television production, to eventually become a director in movies for marvel or Sony Pictures. I’m applying to many schools out in California, 2 in Chicago, and one New York. My number one, top pick, is Loyola Marymount, it’s out in Los Angeles.

With determination and hopefully learning from some of the best professors and peers, I’m hopeful that I will be able to make a dent in the world through storytelling and just being a positive role model to those who watch.


Yolanda Odueze – November 2018

Hello all, my name is Yolanda Odueze and I just want to start off by saying what an honor it is to receive Youth of the Month, and I want to thank you all for rewarding me this outstanding privilege. I often reflect on the growth from the day I walked into Round Lake High School sophomore year as a timid and close-minded girl to how open-minded and happy I am as a senior, and it never fails to amaze me. Round Lake has offered me a countless amount of amazing opportunities academically, and my three years here were life-changing. I have met outstanding students and made countless memories that will be engraved in me forever.

I was born and raised in Rogers Park, Chicago. I lived in a small apartment with my three older siblings and two parents. Life wasn’t always a bed of roses, but my parents never failed to come home with a massive smile reassuring my siblings and me that everything will be okay. In Chicago, I attended Von Steuben High School and was involved in several extracurricular activities to get involved in school. Von Steuben lacked student’s voice for the minority, so freshman year my best friend and I created AAC or African American Club to give the students a voice and to promote peace and unity. In addition, twice a year we will create traditional dances, and poetic poems to perform in front of the entire school, friends, and families to spread the African American traditions. This club was beyond successful, and not only did we achieve our goals but I was able to make lifetime friendships and amazing memories with the students.

In Chicago, the bad often outweighed the good, living in Rogers Park was a risk considering that gang violence was very popular. My life changed sophomore year when my brothers lost one of their friends to gun violence, and my mom couldn’t spend another day in Chicago. Before I knew it I was in a U-Haul moving to Round Lake, IL. I remembered pulling up to the school with my dad and sister, I was very overwhelmed and afraid of my new life, but I was fascinated by the crazy amount of TVs mounted on the wall. Moving to Round Lake was a very difficult transition for me, I’ve never been put into a new situation where I knew absolutely no one. I was stuck between two decisions: either being pessimistic or making the best out of the situation. I remember asking my counselor Ms.McCall about Round Lake’s NHS program, and how I can get involved. In little to no time, I was accepted into the NHS program and opened to meeting new students. Within my journey in Round Lake, I am currently involved in RL Ambassador, Panther Crew Leader, and Student Council but the one club that was missing was an African American club, and I was eager to create one. After Round Lake was accepted as a democratic school, Mr. Pegarsh and I decided to create BSU to give minorities in RL a voice. Black Student Union (BSU) stressed the importance of leadership, college, and most importantly peace. Last week was our very first meeting and we had an amazing turnout, students came and expressed their frustrations, beliefs, and goals and we were able to hear them out. One student mentioned “BSU is probably the only thing I look forward to every week” and that made me smile because my goal is to always make students heard and comfortable and to be able to help other students made me feel accomplished.

Round Lake High School transformed my life tremendously and it’s bittersweet that it is my last year, but that only means I get to help other people somewhere else and I plan to in the future. It is my plan to major in biochemistry, with the goal of eventually becoming a pre-med student and a neurosurgeon. My parents taught me that one feature no one can take from you is your ability to learn, and the most important part of your body is your brain. For that reason, I wanted to make it my duty to protect and save the brain at any cost. After attending Harvard Pre-Collegiate summer program, I had the opportunity to meet new people with similar future professions as me and as we collaborated to diagnose patients, and listen to doctors talk about their love for the profession brought an indescribable feeling in my heart. The two weeks in Boston and my history in biology were more than enough to convince me that Neuroscience was something I can devote my entire life to, sweeping under the rug the additional 15 years of schooling that comes with the profession. I always enjoyed helping people and I’m very excited to see what the future holds for me.

Lastly, I want to thank my amazing parents for always believing in me and for raising me into the amazing women I am today. Finally, I want to thank the women that welcomed me to Round Lake High School with open arms. Since sophomore year I always came to you whether it was to write me a recommendation for the millions of summer programs I applied to or to simply talk, and your door was always opened for me and I cannot stress how grateful and thankful I am, and ultimately you made my transition very smooth


Daniel Guzman – October 2018

In my life, I have admired one beautiful and unique human being, Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa had the characteristics I’ve always admired in a person, she was loving and loved helping others. There is one thing Mother Teresa once exclaimed, and it’s something I carry with me every day she said: “It’s not about how much you do, but how much love you put into what you do that counts.” To me, that has always been helping others and seeing a change in others lives, and I love seeing others smile and doing good because that means I’ve done my job right. I’ve lived in Round Lake my entire life and if you were to ask me, “If you could live anywhere else in the world where would you live?”, I would still want to live here in this amazing place.

I have set a goal for myself to help improve Round Lake even more than it already has and change the social narrative that it’s had over the years. Of course, I haven’t done this alone. I see how much this community has grown by itself offering help to students and how much pride we have as a school. My goal has always been to show people that Round Lake High School is full of caring, dedicated, intelligent and hard working people. As you may know the majority of students at Round Lake High School is a Hispanic/Latino community and what does that mean? It means we’re just like any other school on a mission to do something great. It doesn’t mean we’re any different, although we may feel that we are at times compared to other schools due to remarks or opinions they have to say towards us but I have never let that get to me and stop me from doing everything I have done for this community.

I have been involved in our school as much as I could being part of various clubs and activities. I’ve been a part of Panther Crew at the school, where I get to be a role model to many underclassmen and show them what RLHS is about and how amazing this school is and be a helping hand to them when things seem difficult for them. I’ve had the privilege to be part of the new student liaison group where I get to show new students coming in from around the state, country and even around the world. It gives me the opportunity to be the student’s new friend, helping hand, and show them what RLHS has to offer as they make a unique and often scary transition to this school.  I have had the pleasure to be a college ambassador at our school helping students with the college process to see them start a new chapter of their lives and give them any college help they need. I’m a member of the National Hispanic Institute and attended the New York Lorenzo de Zavala youth legislative session which helped me improve my leadership and communicating skills, I even received the award as the most persuasive senator for my collaboration, communication, leadership and hard work, which thankfully I now use in our school. I am also a proud member of the NLCC Leadership Conference representing our tennis team learning ways to be a role model and a leader for the team. These are only a few of the clubs I have been involved in, but there is one that stands out completely from the rest. That activity is Tennis. I want to take the time why tennis is the most critical activity. Tennis plays a crucial part in my life; it gave me a new family, it motivates me, teaches me discipline, and most importantly, it taught me to be proud of where I’m from.

At RLHS, our tennis program had been struggling over the past decade; we’d experience hard losses and receive offensive comments from our students and students from other schools, mainly because the majority of the team is Latino. Other schools would laugh at us when they saw it would be us that they would be playing next. They would say things like, we’re not good enough and that we were an easy win. One even said to me that “they are just a bunch of Mexicans, they won’t be that hard to play against.” These stereotypes and comments made the team feel as if we had bleak chances of achieving anything. It even made me feel inferior at one point. At the end of the 2017 season, which was my sophomore year, I knew it was time to make a change toward the narrative Round Lake had about their tennis team, and although I won 1st place at the #3 singles position that year it made me realize that I have the power to do something great for our school. I knew it would be a team effort, I offered help to my teammates, I bonded with them, and I trusted them. I worked as hard as I could, and I would stay after to help improve my skills and help my teammates with any struggles they had on both the Varsity and JV level. I would play weekends; I would play during off-season hitting indoors and play all I could and even took private lessons. During the season the team and I had a phrase coach Davis always wanted us to remember, “Commitment to the cause,” which was said before, during, and after every single practice and match. This phrase wasn’t just any other phrase; it was a sign of hope and dedication that the team had to reach our goal of winning the conference title it was a beacon of hope for us. The hard work, time, sweat, focus, and commitment paid off. I ended my season with a record of eighteen wins and six losses at the number two singles position, and the team reached a record of wins never seen at RLHS until this day, fifteen team wins and four team losses. Even though we had an impressive record, we knew we had one more thing left to do; we had our eyes on a much bigger prize, a title never won in Round Lake since the 1980’s, we wanted to win a conference title. The tennis team, after many decades, finally won the conference title, with a total of 38 team points at the NLCC conference tournament which put us at 1st place, and after doing so I did one thing; I cried. I cried because all I hoped and dreamed for finally happened. Winning this title didn’t give me the honor of being crowned a champion or being recognized by the school board and even having the plaque; it gave me something else more important, self-realization and it was one step closer to show everyone what we can do. Winning this title showed me what I am capable of accomplishing and showed me my true potential.

Most importantly, winning this title taught me to be proud of who I am and where I am from, that no matter where I live or my ethnicity, I can accomplish anything in life by working harder than anyone else.
 That is why after high school I plan on attending a 4 year university to major in psychology to pursue my passion to help others, and although I may not know what the future may hold for me I know that God has a plan for me and I realized I would have support from everyone to help me through this new and exciting chapter in my life.

Before I leave here I want to reach out to anyone seeking for help, for anyone wanting to make a change, or anyone achieving a goal in their life you will encounter people who will try to put you down and tell you your dreams are redundant. Just know you will never walk alone and that nothing is impossible if you work as hard as you can and dedicate yourself to it and have your commitment to your cause.  Once RLHS reaches its peak and when that change comes I promise that we won’t go back. I hope to continue making an impact on this school and if I was able to make an impact in only 3 years for this school I have yet only to wonder what I can do for everyone else and I hope for the best in the future and help others who need it.