Head of the Class: David Garate

RIO HONDO — David Garate’s not only going to be Rio Hondo High School’s valedictorian.

He’s also a leader who’s helping other students learn more about the career path he plans to follow.

When he graduates this year, he plans to study biology at Texas A&M University before going on to medical school.

“I do everything for my mom and my dad,” said Garate, 17, a senior who’s the son of Rocio Madrigal of Rio Hondo and Marco Garate of San Benito.

“When no one else believed in me, my mom had faith in everything I did,” said Garate, whose 4.0 grade-point average puts him at the top of his class of 140 students. “That goes a long way with my success. She taught me everything is possible as long you want it badly.”

On the student council since his freshman year, now he’s second cadet in the high school’s Air Force Junior ROTC program.

“When I reflect upon myself, I don’t think of myself as being intelligent,” he said. “I see myself as a problem-solver.”

Garate learned to thrive amid hard times.

“We were poor. I never had Internet at my house,” he said. “I would attend public places to do my work.”

During his sophomore year, he took a part-time job at a movie theater, often getting home at 2 a.m.

“I had to work because of my family’s financial situation,” he said. “There were times I didn’t even sleep. I stayed up till 7 in the morning to catch up on all my school work. But I still kept up my grades.”

This year, Garate’s launched the school’s new program, Health Occupation Students of America, part of a national organization.

“I knew this was the club for me because it’s geared toward the medical field,” he said. “I thought starting the club would help students like myself because it gives you a chance to educate yourself toward the medical field.”

Garate also began his work in the health field, spearheading the school’s first blood drive in five years.

“I went classroom to classroom and educated the teachers,” he said. “I told them that by giving one pint of blood you can save three lives. Then at lunch, we would go from table to table to tell students how important this blood drive was.”

In his freshman year, Garate set his sights on a medical career.

“I had a skin condition and had plenty of acne on my face. It affected me,” he said. “From that time on I wanted to be a dermatologist so I could help kids who struggle with the same problem and put a smile on their face.”