Conant alum receives 2020 Hometown Hero award
Conant alum Val Aguilar has been named Conant’s 2020 Hometown Hero. Created in 2014 by now-retired US History teacher Frank Kernats, the Hometown Hero award annually recognizes the service and sacrifice of veterans in the Conant community.
Committee member and social studies teacher Andrew Mikrut said, “The committee chose Val because we wanted to recognize a former CHS student and a person who sacrificed her time, effort, and energy in the service to our country.”
During her junior year of high school, Aguilar made the decision to serve in the military. “My dad was in the army. He was in the special forces, and I wanted to follow his legacy,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar’s father insisted that she join the Air Force because it fit her interest in aerospace engineering. After meeting with multiple recruiters, Aguilar learned that she was ineligible to participate in the Air Force Academy and Air Force ROTC because she wasn’t a US citizen at the time.
Determined to serve her country, she joined the National Guard, and she hopes to continue her career in the National Guard and become an officer in the Air Force after earning her bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering.
Born and raised in Bogota, Colombia, Aguilar moved to San Jose, Costa Rica at the age of fourteen and later to Schaumburg when she was sixteen. Aguilar struggled with the language and cultural barriers when she moved to the US.
Despite these obstacles, she chose to embrace her new life by getting involved in numerous activities and sports and taking challenging classes. “I realized that I didn’t care if I messed up a verb tense or maybe I said something in past simple instead of future tense. At the end of the day, friends were always there to maybe laugh a little but always correct me and make me better!”
Most of Aguilar’s family remains in Colombia, but she was able to make a new family at Conant. She stated that she struggled transitioning to college. “Conant was my family for a long time, but when you go to a college as big as Purdue, you realize that you don’t have your family anymore.”
Joining the National Guard at Purdue gave Aguilar another new family, something she is grateful for. “I was just given this family and then they were like, ‘Go figure it out. You guys are in this dorm for two months. Tell your stories, try to work as a team, and work together.’ One of the best things that the military could have ever given me is just a family that I can always rely on.”
Although she faced many struggles, Aguilar learned to turn her obstacles into opportunities. She encourages Conant students to do the same during this time.
“We can’t be looking at obstacles as a setback; we should be thinking of them as a set up. I think of every day as an opportunity for you to grow, an opportunity for you to change whatever’s not going right in your life. At the end of the day, you just want to make the best version of yourself because you shouldn’t be living at anybody’s standards.”