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Great grads: Mia Villegas’ passion for school, people go a long way for purposeful achievement

Mia Villegas is headed to UC Davis. The recent San Benito High School graduate was the Circle of Friends club president, a three-sport varsity athlete and a high achiever in the classroom. She'll be keeping busy this summer by being a teacher's aide in the special education department during the summer school session. Photo provided by Marlene Villegas.

For the longest time, Mia Villegas planned on being a nurse. But upon reflection, the incoming UC Davis freshman figured if it was going to take her four years to graduate from college with a nursing degree, what’s six more years of schooling to become an OB/GYN?

That’s the mindset of the recent San Benito High graduate. 

“I decided if I’m going to be at school for as long as I can, I might as well become a doctor and pursue medical school,” she said. “People tell me that I’ve always had a passion for school, and as weird as it sounds, I’ve always enjoyed school. For me, I cannot ever picture myself not being in school. It’s a normal thing so yeah, I’m going to do 10 more years of it.”

Villegas considers herself an extrovert but even she was utterly exhausted in the days after San Benito High School’s graduation day on June 3. From June 3-5, Villegas attended seven graduation parties, enough to make even the biggest extrovert want to get away from people for a time. 

“I can finally take a breath,” she said. “From last Friday, it was pretty much hop back and forth and try to attend everybody’s graduation party.”

Once the post-graduation festivities died down, Villegas found herself in a rather unfamiliar position: with free time. For the last four years, through Advanced Placement classes to club responsibilities and spending the entire academic year playing for one of the San Benito sports teams, Villegas never had a hint of down time. 

Until now. 

“It’s a surreal thing about the free time I’ve had recently,” she said. “I haven’t been able to figure out what to do with it. Now I can just spend time looking forward to the future, and it’s fun. I like it.”

Of course, don’t think for a second that Villegas is suddenly going to turn into a couch potato this summer. On the contrary, Villegas will work as a teacher’s aide in the school’s special education department during the summer school session. 

It’s a continuation of the work from her involvement with the renowned Circle of Friends club, for which she served as the president during her senior year. Circle of Friends is an inclusive SBHS campus club that was created 12 years ago to promote an environment and culture of inclusion for all students through daily lunch meetings and other activities. 

The Circle of Friends club was one of the reasons SBHS earned a top-5 designation as a National Champion Unified Banner School by ESPN and the Special Olympics earlier this year. 

“Circle of Friends has been such an important part of my high school experience,” Villegas said. “Even before high school, I became a peer teacher for one of the classes and knew from there I wanted to be involved with the program as much as I could be. It ended up skyrocketing my love for it through the years. I love the people, the inclusivity and love the idea of bringing awareness to those who aren’t necessarily seen in the light as they should be.”

In addition to being the Circle of Friends President, Villegas made the school’s Top-10 Achieving Seniors and served as a class officer for all four years. In Villegas’ freshman year, her P.E. teacher was none other than her mom, Marlene, who has been teaching in the district for 25 years. Mia said she loved being in her mom’s class. 

“It was another opportunity to hang out with my mother, which was awesome,” Mia said. 

Sports played a vital role in shaping Villegas during her time at SBHS. She competed on three different varsity teams starting in her sophomore year: volleyball, basketball and track and field. Though Villegas treated academics with the utmost priority, she said competing and making an impact on the sports teams was in some ways even more rewarding than anything she achieved academically. 

“Sports have been such a big part of my life for as long as I can remember,” she said. 

Villegas was notified she had been accepted by UC Davis in early March. She was at SBHS at the time cleaning up after the completion of the annual ASB Convention. Villegas got to share a nice moment with friend Joe Fata, as they both opened up their emails at the same time. 

Marlene and another one of Mia’s friends were there to share in the good news. 

“It was one of my first acceptances and it felt great because it was one of the schools I had been considering,” she said. “I had the assurance I would have a good school to go to, so it was very exciting.”

It’s been one week since Mia Villegas and fellow SBHS class of 2022 seniors graduated. Photos provided by Marlene Villegas.
Whether it was in the classroom or on the athletic fields, Mia Villegas worked hard to achieve her potential.
Mia Villegas’ next stop is UC Davis and then medical school after that.

Emanuel Lee can be reached at