Carlos Valentin was a sixth grader at Immaculate Conception, (now Most Blessed Trinity) when visitors came to his classroom to talk about plans for a new college prep Catholic high school in Waukegan, one where students got to go to work AND attend school. That day he announced to his parents: “I’m going to that school. I have to.”
Fast forward to 2008. Valentin accomplished a major milestone when he marched down the aisle to accept his diploma as a member of the first graduating class of Cristo Rey St. Martin. (St. Martin de Porres at the time.)
“I was a shy kid, but I just knew I wanted to be part of something new, something different,” said Valentin.
It’s a mantra that has marked the course of the next 17 years.
Today, Valentin is a member relations advocate at Baxter Credit Union, and is a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology for Industrial Design with major in Industrial Design and a minor in American sign language. He recently graduated with a MBA in International Global Studies and Marketing from North Park University in Chicago. Following his college graduation and while attending grad school, he worked at Cristo Rey for a year as a coordinator for the Corporate Work Study Program, the first step, he says, in giving back to young people in Waukegan.
A born trailblazer, Valentin is also a published poet, painter, photographer and overall involved in the arts. During college, he was a member of the touring dance troupe for students who are hard of hearing and deaf and he studied abroad at the Florence University of the Arts. He speaks four languages including Spanish and Italian, and he says, sign language. He became interested in that because his cousin is deaf and because he has many friends who also have lost their hearing.
His goal: “I am hoping to merge business, art, mathematics, and medicine into a field where all can benefit and impact communities in a positive manner.”
It’s the lessons about working hard, paying attention and being super resourceful, that he says have propelled him on his journey to attend school, work to earn the funding and to pursue his passion in the arts.
The first lesson came at age 15, he says when he worked at Brunswick Corp. in the tax department. At the time, he did clerical work and filing, and after earning his supervisor’s trust, advanced to reviewing spreadsheets to make sure the numbers added up. During his second year there, he says: “I remember working on a document for a coworker when I noticed some numbers did not add up at all. So I just went to him and said, ‘I completed the project, but I was going over this a couple times and just could not get these numbers to add up.’ He thanked me and stated he would look into it. Well a few hours went by and he called me back into his office to thank me. It turned out that I was able to save the company one million dollars by catching that mistake. Now that felt amazing to know that a 15-year-old was able to do that.”
His second life-changing lesson was overcoming what he says was his crippling shyness. At Cristo Rey, he joined the Cross Cultural Club and the Gamer’s World Club to pursue his fascination with faraway countries and to become part of a group of friends at school. “I was beyond shy and never had pushed to be part of anything,” he says. That effort to reach out and make friends, coupled with his new Corporate Work Study assignment at the front desk of the Village of Gurnee pushed him out of his comfort zone and led to year-round employment during summer and school breaks. He remembers the big send-off his co-workers had for him when he left for college in New York.
During college, Valentin also received an associates’ degree in Advanced Mathematics, joined a fraternity Kappa Delta Rho, helped teach hip hop as a teaching assistant, was a resident advisor for his fraternity, the international student floor, and one year on the a deaf and hard-of-hearing floor.
“I made sure I was very involved and nowhere near shy like I was as a kid,” he says. To help pay his tuition, he worked at the school grocery store and at the front desk for a tutoring center.
He’s thought about what his life would be like now if he had not attended CRSM.
“I would have probably only gone to a local college and maybe would have never gone beyond Lake County,” he says. “I know my family has brought up ideas of Florida so if anything, I would probably be there working with cousins or trying to find my way in life.”
Today, he’s thrilled to be back in Waukegan with his mom, dad, two sisters and his four-month-old niece – and his two nephews.
“They are amazing and love to see my collection of everything from trading cards to power rangers to game,” he says. “They call my room ‘the museum’ since I have so many different collectibles.”
Future plans call for a PhD, but for now he is happy to be working at Baxter and checking off items on his dream board and traveling the world.
“My dream board has trips to Egypt, Machu Picchu, Australia, Grand Canyon, Japan, New Orleans, and the list goes on. I also have goals such as running in marathons, showing my art at an art galleries, writing a novel or a new poetry book, buying my first home, and really just living life to the fullest.”
His advice for students: “prove them wrong.”
“I know due to age, many people think we are too young to know or try things, but I say push forward and live your dreams,” he says. “Another thing is, it is ok to fail. We cannot be perfect in everything we do. Take every failure as a chance to do better the next time around. Do things for yourself and do what makes you happy.”
Valentin is very grateful for the experience and opportunities CRSM has opened up for him.
“Thank you for bringing this school idea to a school where a shy 11-year-old boy could realize there is more to the world and now 17 years later he can look back and smile knowing that life has been an amazing adventure thus far,” he says. “Thank you for the hope you bring the city of Waukegan and its people. Keep on growing and bringing hope to the people. I am proud to say I am part of the 2008 graduating class and would not have it any other way. I would do it all over again as CRSM helped create the man I am today.”