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The graduates of 2012

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English honors came quick for this South Meck graduate

When Carlos Leon, 17, came from Villalba, Puerto Rico, to Charlotte three years ago, he was placed in a program for students who didn’t grow up speaking English as their first language.

The following year, he was in an Honors English class at South Mecklenburg High School, overcoming language and cultural barriers.

Leon, a senior, studied only basic English before coming to Charlotte and said learning “proper English” and certain vocabulary words proved challenging for him.

“My teacher said that because I learned English in Puerto Rico and here, she recommended me (to Honors English),” Leon said.

Leon’s guidance counselor, Jacqueline Strickland, said the teen always pushes himself to do better. This year, he earned A’s in all his classes.

“He is a role model for other students; he perseveres,” Strickland said. “He spends a lot of time on his assignments. Having parents that don’t speak the language requires a lot more from him – he’s really a hard worker, and I admire that in him.”

Leon’s mother came to Charlotte with Leon’s older brother during the summer of 2006. When Leon – who was living with his maternal grandparents – graduated from ninth grade in 2009, his mother urged him to come to the United States because the educational system was better and there were more opportunities.

Because Leon was born in Puerto Rico, a United States territory, he is a U.S. citizen.

It took Leon a little while to adjust to the cultural differences between Villalba and Charlotte.

“What I noticed is that here, people are more serious. They take everything very seriously,” Leon said, referring to school and work. During weekends in Puerto Rico, Leon and his peers had free time to spend with family, neighbors and friends. “Here, because you need the money more, people are working all the time,” the teen said.

Culinary connection

Though lonely at first, he developed strong friendships with the 11 or so students in his culinary arts class – which he has taken over two years. “We communicate through Twitter and Facebook if we’re going to the movies or something,” he said.

Leon said the culinary arts class was his favorite, and he enjoys cooking for his family and friends.

“In the culinary arts program, he helped the teacher (by bringing) Hispanic heritage foods,” Strickland said. “He is sprinkling a little bit of Carlos wherever he goes.”

Though he likes to cook, Leon doesn’t want to become a professional chef.

Inspired by shows like Criminal Minds and CSI, Leon said he would like to work for the FBI and study forensic science.

“I like to solve problems,” Leon said.

Leon hopes to attend UNC Charlotte in the fall. He won’t be the first in his family to go to college – one of his brothers will be starting at the University of Kentucky this fall, and another brother went to Ponce Paramedical College in Puerto Rico.

Cusido: 704-358-6180
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