angelina begines felipe national student leadership conference christopher high school
Christopher High School student Angelina Begines, standing with her father Felipe outside their Gilroy home, shows the letter she received that invited her to attend the 2022 National Student Leadership Conference. Photo: Erik Chalhoub
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Angelina Begines has had her mind set on college for as long as she can remember, not only wanting to make her family proud but also as a way to thank her immigrant grandparents for making the difficult decision to arrive in the United States from Mexico.

She also has her sights set high: with interest in pursuing careers in law and engineering, Begines is eager to dive into the grueling, but rewarding work.

The Christopher High School junior is also blazing a path for her two younger siblings, who are extremely competitive and are plotting their higher education paths as well, said father Felipe.

Begines will get a taste of the college experience this summer, after she was accepted to attend the National Student Leadership Conference, an annual program that hosts career-focused leadership conferences for high school students across 14 universities throughout the country.

Students in the program live in college dorms and attend lectures and activities on campus in their fields of interest.

Begines will be attending the Law and Advocacy program of the conference, held at Yale University from July 6-14.

“I always wanted to defend the unspoken,” she said. “It’s so hard for me to watch trials and see people that have a voice but can’t speak for themselves. I always wanted to be that one person who speaks up for them.”

It won’t be the first time the Gilroy native has experienced college first hand. While a student at South Valley Middle School, Begines was one of a select few to participate in GetSET, a program of the Santa Clara Valley Section of the Society of Women Engineers.

There, Begines attended classes with her peers at San Jose State University and got a chance to interact with women in the STEM fields.

“Going to classes every day was so much fun,” she said. “It was almost unbelievable to see how many girls are persistent and determined to get to that special place.”

Felipe Begines said it was “surreal” when the family found out that Angelina had been selected to attend the National Student Leadership Conference.

“I don’t think words can describe how super proud I am of my daughter,” he said.

Seeing his children find success in their lives is something that he has always dreamt about.

“Growing up with close to nothing, I told myself if I ever had children, I want them to have it all,” he said.

Felipe is a longtime bus driver for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, and he describes his job with pride, knowing that he allows numerous people to get to and from work, school or other locations. On his route, he said he interacts with many young people, and encourages them to pursue college to reach their dreams.

felipe begines bus driver santa clara valley transportation authority
Felipe Begines is a longtime bus driver who says he will likely retire in the position. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority

“My father always taught me that when you are born, it’s the start of the race of life. It’s not how you finish it, but it’s who we help throughout the way,” he said.

Felipe has nothing but praise for the VTA as well as for former General Manager Nuria Fernandez, who now serves as the administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, saying that she serves as an inspiration for many young Latinas, including his daughter.

“What I love about my job is I can be who I am,” he said. “It allows me to smile every day, and make other people smile and laugh. I seriously think I’m going to retire as a bus driver.”

Angelina, like her father, hopes to inspire others.

“Being in a small town, you can underestimate the opportunities,” she said. “Taking that leap of faith only gets you more opportunities, more open doors. Don’t ever give up.”

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


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