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Remarkable Seniors: His diverse achievements include overcoming challenges – Florida Times

Diversity and unity are important to Ian Morales Echevarria.

The recent Englewood High graduate overcame motor skills problems and frequent household relocations as a youngster. As a teen, the Puerto Rico-born student became a cultural and academic leader at his school.

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“He has a calling to help others and is so generous and giving of himself, no matter the size of the task,” said Karen Whitehouse, the senior class counselor.

Echevarria got involved with the Latino Rams, which represents students from 22 Spanish-speaking countries who attend Englewood. He also helped found the Multicultural Club with other students and later joined the Gay Straight Alliance.

This is in addition to his National Honor Society activities and Brain Brawl district trivia competitions, where he specialized in geography and Spanish.

Not bad for a student who couldn’t speak or walk until after age 2 and who had speech therapists and physical therapists teach him to do what many students took for granted, such as walking up stairs, speaking fluently and tying his shoe.

Growing up in a household of women — his mom, grandmother, two sisters and a niece — Echevarria attended seven different elementary schools because his family moved around so much. His mother, he said, didn’t attend college and worked a variety of factory jobs to improve her family’s situation.

They came to Jacksonville when he was 13.

“I was very, very, very scared to be here,” he recalled.

“It was a new state, a new school entirely. I’d have to start all over again. I told myself I could take the challenge. I have grown a lot of good friends here that know me for me.”

Englewood’s diversity is its strength, its identity, Echevarria said, but students needed help seeing that.

“Although we were diverse, we still had little cliques and I believed we should be connected as a school,” he said.

Through clubs he coordinated and participated in many service projects such as gardening and other projects around the school and volunteering at HabiJax. He also helped run talent shows and cultural fairs, involving up to 150 students at once.

Englewood’s students come from 33 countries, including immigrants from Kosovo, Arab nations, Myanmar and elsewhere. Most students get along without the racial or cultural rifts you might expect, Echevarria said.

“We respect each other for the most part and we respect our differences,” he said.

Echevarria over the years has had to maintain a balance of home and school responsibilities.

Beginning his senior year, he has worked 20 hours a week at Chipotle to help make ends meet, while also achieving a 3.84 GPA and early college status. He is one of eight Englewood seniors, out of 363, who took classes as a freshman at Florida State College at Jacksonville while still a senior, Whitehouse said.

“Learning wasn’t always easy for him, so he has worked doubly hard to keep that from slowing him down,” she said.

He has been accepted at the University of Central Florida and at the University of North Florida, but he said he’ll complete one more year at FSCJ before attending a four-year college because he’s trying to keep his costs down, continue helping his family and avoid borrowing money, he said.

He hopes to major in education and international business because he wants to travel, give back to his community and make money.

“I have the drive for it,” he said. “I know I can do it. Why not?”

Denise Smith Amos: (904) 359-4083

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