Santana Rodriguez is convinced she was named after renowned musician Carlos Santana, the critically acclaimed 10-time Grammy Award winner who is known for his brilliance with the guitar.
“My dad (Rudy) always told me when I was younger I used to watch a soap opera, and he and my mom (Anna) loved a character on the show who was named Santana,” says Rodriguez, who recently graduated from San Benito High School as the valedictorian and will be attending UCLA in August. “But I just think that’s a cover for who they really named me after—Carlos Santana. They’re really big fans of his.”
Although Rodriguez isn’t a musician, she has displayed otherworldly talents in several different mediums. To wit: In addition to carrying a 4.44 GPA—she took a total of 10 Advanced Placement classes in her junior and senior years—Rodriguez competed on the school’s swimming and cross country teams while juggling active roles with organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which is the oldest Hispanic civil rights organization in the U.S.
Rodriguez joined San Benito County LULAC before her freshman year and held the position of treasurer and vice president. Rodriguez also served as president of San Benito High School’s Key Club and Math Club while also being the chairperson for fundraising and a member of the prom committee.
Rodriguez says the hours she put into community service with LULAC and the Key Club gave her immeasurable joy and a heart to give back to others.
“They had a huge impact on me,” she says. “Not only for the difference you can make in the community as a whole, but how you see the lives of individuals and yourself change by doing simple things to help that go a long way.”
San Benito County LULAC has a yearly event around Christmas in which members and volunteers wrap presents before handing them out to needy families.
“You spend the whole day with the less fortunate, and it’s always nice to see a smile on the children’s faces,” says Rodriguez, who also says one of her favorite projects include the Key Club Kinship event, a major fundraising event with proceeds going toward foster children.
“That (project) really warms my heart as well,” she says.
As great as Rodriguez was in the classroom and with serving the community, she was no less proficient in the athletic arena. This past season Rodriguez had her best season in the pool, regularly competing in four events: the 50-yard freestyle, 100-meter butterfly, 100-meter breaststroke and 500-meter freestyle.
Rodriguez accomplished one of her biggest goals when she set a personal-record for the 100-meter butterfly in the Monterey Bay League Championships in May, shaving 5 seconds off her previous best time. A tireless athlete, Rodriguez also completed a year of volleyball and two seasons of cross country in her junior and senior years.
Rodriguez learned valuable lessons not just in the classroom, but in the athletic arena as well.
“Athletics always taught me you get out what you put in,” she says. “And even in an individual sport like swimming, you’re working for yourself but also working for the entire team’s benefit. That’s a great mentality to have in everything you do in life, is to work for other people’s benefit.”
Rodriguez will major in biology at UCLA with the goal of going to medical school to become a doctor. Rodriguez gained a deep appreciation for the medical profession after she helped take care of her grandma, Mary Reed, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.
Reed died in 2014, but Rodriguez and her mom served as caregivers for Reed in her later years.
“My mom did medical billing and would bring me to the doctor’s office,” Rodriguez says. “I was always around that type of environment. My mom tells me that I would line up all the stuffed animals and when I saw patients getting their blood pressure taken, I would pretend to be a doctor to each of the stuffed animals. I’m so thankful for everything my parents have done for me ever since I was little. They’ve always encouraged me to follow my dream. I know it won’t always be easy, but it’ll be worth it in the end.”
For Rodriguez, graduation day took on added significance. She’ll become the first person in her family to attend a four-year university. That’s noteworthy because Rodriguez has two younger brothers, Rudy Jr. and Noah, who have a great role model to look up to.