Student won’t let disease hold her back

October 7, 2019
She is only 18 years old, but Cindy Aguilar-Castañeda is already doing big things in the city of Gonzales. “She is one of the most phenomenal leaders I’ve ever met,” Gonzales High teacher Virginia Brown said. “Her leadership skills are just out of this world. She’s able to draw people in from all sides of the community — business people, city council members. I think everybody who meets her believes she’ll be president one day.” Gonzales has a population of 8,000 people — and everyone in this town knows Cindy. Perhaps the most intriguing question around Cindy is how she finds the time to do so much. She served four years on the Gonzales Youth Council, played saxophone and clarinet with her school’s jazz ensemble, and took courses at Hartnell College. “I’ve always been a workaholic,” Cindy said. “It’s just in me. I don’t know if it’s maybe my trauma that I feel like I have to do something. I have to be worthy. I have to be resilient.” When Cindy was a sophomore, her body started to break down. Simple things like holding a pencil or picking up her backpack were challenging. After a few hospital visits, doctors diagnosed Cindy with lupus, an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. “It was just this really dark shadow coming over me,” Cindy said. “It’s been really hard adapting. I missed a lot of school. But I was able to manage it.” Despite Cindy’s medical battle, she ended the semester with a 4.0. Gonzales High Assistant Principal Miguel Malagon credits her resilience for her success. “There have been days that I have seen Cindy with pain,” he said. “But she’s still here. She pushes herself beyond limits.” In June, Cindy became the first member in her family to graduate from high school. And this fall, she started college at the University of California at Berkeley. Cindy said she recognizes the gift of a quality education is one that she can one day pay forward.  “I am carrying on my shoulders all the women in my family. None of them had the experiences that I was able to have,” she said. “I get to have an education. And I get to hopefully be able to use that for good and be of service to others.”
Cindy Aguilar-Castañeda is the first in her family to graduate from high school.

© 2019 Association of California School Administrators