Whitney High student rises to the challenge

October 7, 2019
Whitney High School in Cerritos is consistently ranked as one of the top schools in the country. When Richard Montes arrived at the school as a seventh grader, he was overwhelmed.  “It’s definitely a rigorous school. And I used to always compare myself to everyone else,” Montes said. “But at the same time, seeing these people always succeed, always being so active and involved, it really inspired me to try and imitate that.” Despite living outside of the district, Richard made the daily commute from Hawaiian Gardens to Cerritos to compete with some of the best and the brightest. “I think Whitney was a great proving ground for him,” Whitney High Principal John Briquelet said. “We knew that he belonged at Whitney. But he discovered that he belonged at Whitney through the activities and experiences that he had here.” Richard has plenty of motivation to succeed. His childhood was, at times, heartbreaking. His father was an alcoholic who became violent after having too much to drink. After a series of domestic violence incidents, Richard’s father was deported, leaving him in the care of his mother and two older sisters. “My mom worked constantly to make sure we were all stable,” Richard said. “And my struggles were nothing compared to their struggles. So I wanted to make sure that all the effort, all the hard work they put into raising me paid off in the end.” Richard credits his mom and sisters for helping him become the person he is today.  “The women in my life have always been really, really strong, independent women,” he said.  “I learned from them what it really means to be a man, not from my father.” Richard admits he initially shied away from the pressure at Whitney High. He questioned if he should take the easy way out and return to his home school. Instead, he immersed himself in school activities including Model United Nations and the Association of Latin American Students. “I think that for a lot of students, after getting knocked down once, it may be easy to just kind of give up,” said Whitney High counselor Valerie Diaz. “But Richard didn’t.” Now a Whitney High graduate, Richard is grateful for the journey and is ready to face whatever obstacles may come his way. “Challenges are just a part of life,” he said. “But you’re not going to gain anything, you’re not going to grow as a person, if you just sit around and complain about them.”
Richard Montes is the Region 14 ESS winner.

© 2019 Association of California School Administrators