Every Student Succeeding: Rodrigo Portillo

Rodrigo Portillo has had more responsibilities than many teenagers. His parents were born in Mexico, but immigrated to the United States in hopes of providing a better life for their children. Rodrigo flooded his schedule at Ukiah High School in Ukiah Unified School District in return, aware that his success was what their struggle was all for. Juggling multiple AP courses, participating in the MESA program, soccer practice, and a job at a local restaurant where his mother also works as a dish washer, Rodrigo’s work ethic soon caught the attention of many educators at Ukiah High. Despite the obstacles, Rodrigo found a way to do it all. This fall, after graduating with a seal of biliteracy, he became the first person in his family to go to college when he enrolled at Mendocino College. He says it's his way to show his parents how much he appreciates their love, support and sacrifice.


Oct. 17, 2017

Ukiah student repays immigrant parents for their sacrifice

Rodrigo Portillo is quick to admit he had more responsibilities than a normal teenager. And everyone took notice.

“I could tell with Rodrigo when he was in 9th grade, ‘This guy’s not cut of the same cloth of all the others,’” Ukiah High teacher Sid Bishop said. “He gets the business done.”

Rodrigo’s parents were born in Mexico but immigrated to the United States in hopes of providing a better life for their children.

“They left Mexico and came over here without knowing any English,” Rodrigo said. “They left their families. They came for us to get an education.”

Rodrigo received a quality education but he struggled to adjust to a world with two languages and two cultures.

“Growing up, going home you speak Spanish,” Rodrigo said. “And then going to school, you had to speak English. So I didn’t really have that much practice when I was at home. So, it’d be speaking Spanish. Then go to school. Speak English.”

Rodrigo flooded his schedule in an attempt to pay his parents back for their sacrifice. When he was not studying, he was practicing on the soccer fields. When he was not practicing, he was working at a local Ukiah restaurant.

“This was just something I chose to do,” Rodrigo said. “Work. Take all these courses. Just because I felt like I had to give back to my parents. Show them their hard work wasn’t for nothing.”

He says he learned his work ethic from his parents. His mother works at the same local restaurant as a dish washer. But he’s also quick to praise his father for the commitment to provide for the family.

“My dad wakes up at four in the morning and goes to work,” Rodrigo said. “Comes back at five. Does that every day. And I don’t know how he does it. All his effort that he made for me to go to school, that’s why I do so well in school. Because he motivates me to try to get him a better life.”

Rodrigo’s ability to juggle school, soccer, and work caught the attention of many educators at Ukiah High.

“To be an athlete and a student and a worker,” Bishop said. “And it’s not like your calculus teacher’s giving you a break. And it’s not like your physics teacher is giving you a break. So there’s all this stuff that’s going on.”

Yet, despite the obstacles, Rodrigo found a way to do it all. He graduated from Ukiah High in the spring. This fall, he became the first person in his family to go to college when he enrolled at Mendocino College. It’s his way to show his parents how much he appreciates their love and support.

“His situation isn’t necessarily unique to our community, to our students,” Eagle Peak Middle assistant principal Cassandra Mortier said. “But it’s exactly that. To him, there was no alternative. It’s just innate. He knows no other way than to be as exceptional as he is.”

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