May 25, 2018

Maria De Leon

DRIVEN TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE – Maria De Leon is the 2018 salutatorian of Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School. She will attend Butler University this fall as a Lilly Endowment Scholar, where she will double major in political science and peace and conflict studies. Maria is the 2018 salutatorian at Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School.

For most students, high school engenders a mass of memories — of football games, lunchroom antics and endless study sessions. But for Maria S. De Leon, the support of her parents is what she’ll remember most.

“Driving me to practices, picking me up from after-school clubs, coming to every one of my games and student recognition events,” Maria recalls about her parents’ participation in her educational experience. “Some parents don’t allow their kids to stay after school or get involved in too many things, but my parents were always open to and supportive of all of my sports and extracurricular activities. I’ll always remember looking up and seeing them there.”

They’ll be there for her again on June 7, when she graduates as salutatorian of Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School’s Class of 2018.

“My parents are very proud,” she said. “Reaching this goal was important to me, because it was a way for me to honor them for their hard work and support.”

Maria’s parents moved to the U.S. from Guatemala before she was born. Each has a grade school education. “Growing up Latina with parents that have both a language barrier and limited education has been challenging at times,” said Maria. “These specific adversities have taught me to seek out opportunities for myself and others.”

Finishing at the top of her class has always been part of Maria’s high school plan. “I took responsibility for learning what steps to take and what I needed to achieve to attend college and receive scholarships to pay for my education,” she said. “I also wanted to set a good example for my brothers and sister.”

And she did. Maria will be the first person in her family to graduate from high school and attend college.

The standout student will attend Butler University this fall as a Lilly Endowment Scholar, where she will double major in political science and peace and conflict studies, building on her already impressive academic and civic achievements.

In addition to holding a part-time job and playing high school soccer and softball, Maria developed a passion for advocacy while in high school. “I’ve been an activist with the Domestic Violence Youth Network for three years and am committed to raising awareness about domestic violence, sexual assault and teen dating abuse,” she said.

Last month, Maria joined IPS Superintendent Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee in presenting a Dating Violence Prevention Policy proposal to the IPS School Board. Maria said the policy will be implemented at IPS in the fall.

She is a member of the IPS Superintendent’s Advisory Council, the Center for Leadership Development Junior Planning Committee, and the No More Club. She is also an ambassador for the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

In 2017, Maria received the Heather and Coriana Memorial Award for Excellence in Youth Service from the Domestic Violence Network. In May, she received the Outstanding Latina Leader Award by La Plaza Indianapolis, a nonprofit committed to advocating and preparing Latino students for educational success.

Maria already has her own professional business cards — she believes in the power of networking. “My goal is to one day become president and CEO of a nonprofit organization that has a mission to empower youth,” Maria said. “I would also like to run for mayor of Indianapolis and make a difference for youth in my community.”

Soon she’ll see first-hand what the job entails. “This summer I will have the opportunity to shadow the mayor and deputy mayor of Indianapolis,” which she credits to networking with the president of TeenWorks, an organization that empowers teen to achieve excellence in college, career and community. She’ll also intern at the Center for Victims and Human Rights and continue working at her part-time job to save money for college.

Clearly Maria is driven. She wishes more IPS students would take advantage of the clubs and after-school programs IPS offers its students. She also feels IPS should integrate community service into its curriculum.

“I found my passion when I became involved,” she said. “How can we ask students what they want to be when they grow up if they don’t have a passion? I know students who are seniors who are applying to college who don’t have any activities or community service on their resumes.”

Maria will begin Butler with 15 college credits, thanks to the dual-credit courses she took in high school. “That’s like starting college with a semester already complete.”

She is grateful to her favorite teacher, Heath Dearing, for encouraging her to maintain a rigorous course schedule.

“I had Mr. Dearing for two AP English classes my freshman and sophomore years. He was tough, but helped each of us believe in our potential,” said Maria. “He has a true passion for teaching and making sure we are prepared for not only English, but life.”

Maria advises future IPS students to get involved in extracurricular activities and to quickly seek out mentors willing to invest in them.

“Help yourself by letting others help you,” she said. “Always remember that hard work does pay off, and the earlier you put in the hard work, the more opportunities you will receive throughout your high school career.”