This story is part of Newsday’s 2019 Extraordinary Seniors series showcasing 16 high school students from across Long Island with the vision and determination to transform their corners of the universe — and perhaps beyond. Click here to read more.
When she first immigrated to the United States five years ago, Ilsi Martinez Euceda was nervous at the thought of speaking in front of her classmates at Huntington High School.
These days, not only has she found her own voice — for mentoring, in particular — she's helping others find theirs, too.
“It was really hard at the beginning,” she said. “I wasn’t comfortable speaking in front of the class, and now I love to present.”
Euceda, 18, moved to Long Island from Honduras with her mother and two sisters. At first, she said, her English-speaking skills were weak, and she worried about fitting in. But through practice, she learned to be more confident — and along the way, discovered her passion for teaching.
“I was really scared to go to school,” she said. “I thought that I was going to be alone, because it was a different environment, a different culture. But when I got to school, I really liked it.”
Throughout high school, Euceda has served as an English as a New Language student mentor, helping international students acclimate to the student body and assisting them with schoolwork. She has also logged more than 250 hours as an ENL peer tutor.
“When you’re new to a school, you’re so scared because it’s hard to learn the language. We try to make it fun,” she said. “I feel like I need to help those kids because now that I’m bilingual, I should help kids in the mentorship program.”
Last year, Euceda’s mother, a personal wellness coach, was diagnosed with cervical cancer, forcing Ilsi to take time off school to care for her mother and drive her to chemotherapy sessions. She struggled to keep her grades up while working eight or more hours a day on weekends to help keep her mother’s business afloat.
At the same time, she continued as a president of United Amigos, a multicultural club at school.
“She’s a do-gooder. She likes to help other kids,” said Rosario Lorenzana, a science teacher and the club's faculty adviser. “She’s not always thinking of herself; she’s helping others along the way.”
In October, Euceda was awarded the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island’s social justice award for her leadership in and out of school, and in November she was as speaker at the UNICEF Snowflake Ball, an annual fundraiser for the organization that adovates for children around the world.
And, her mother has since been diagnosed cancer-free.
Euceda believes being involved is the best way for students who are unsure of themselves and their English skills to integrate themselves at school and grow more confident.
“I feel like we as Latinos are so scared to show up [for activities] because we fear being rejected,” she said. “When you’re Latino, you’re not alone. There’s a lot of students … who have a similar story to yours.”
HIGHER ED: Euceda will attend Suffolk County Community College.
FRESHMAN YEAR: “I feel like I’m going to have so much fun meeting new people and making new friends and joining new activities.”
IF I RULED THE WORLD “I would make a universal language so everybody could understand what you want and what you need. I think that would be really cool.”