Hug High School student Favian Paniagua Soto is Princeton bound.
The 17-year-old senior and co-valedictorian was a QuestBridge finalist and got a full scholarship funded through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Soto took his first airline flight two weeks ago to New Jersey to visit Princeton University. The uppity and snobbish attitudes often portrayed on TV of the Garden State and Ivy League schools were nowhere to be found, he said.
“I really liked it,” Soto said. “The population, the people, the attitudes are better than I expected.”
Soto was able to meet with future students from around the nation and world.
When applying through QuestBridge, Soto said Princeton was his first choice because of its astrophysics program. QuestBridge matches the nation’s low-income youth with leading colleges.
“Ever since I was a child, I’d been interested in science,” Soto said.
Hug counselor Carly Sweder said about 6 percent of QuestBridge applicants become finalists and about 1 percent of Gates applicants get such scholarships.
“It’s unprecedented to get the QuestBridge as well as the Gates,” Sweder said. “These aren’t easy scholarships to get. It was all him. I wasn’t chasing him to get things filled out.”
When deciding on a major in astrophysics, Soto said he got advice from his two older brothers who told him to pick something he enjoyed. Both also earned college scholarships.
Javier Paniagua Soto is a 2014 graduate of Hug attending the University of Nevada, Reno. Joel Paniagua Soto, who received the Gates Millennium scholarship, is a 2015 Hug graduate studying at the University of California, Davis.
All three children in one family earning college scholarships might signal intelligent genes, but Soto said being at the top of his class—in addition to a host of extracurricular activities that included JROTC, tennis, Key Club and Science Olympiad—was still a challenge.
“You can’t just have talent,” Soto said. “Even if you’re smart, it’s still a lot of work.”
Soto said his parents are also smart, although it’s hard to tell what might have been possible for them if they had the same chance as he and his brothers. Where his parents grew up in Mexico, Soto said there was no middle or high school. He said his father worked several jobs to make ends meet and is currently employed as a custodian.
“My parents didn’t have the opportunity to see where education would take them,” Soto said. “They had only a grade school education.”
Soto was born in the United States but shortly thereafter moved to Mexico, living in Durango and Tijuana for several years. He moved to Reno at the end of first grade and attended several elementary schools because his family moved around the Truckee Meadows. He then attended Traner Middle School and has been at Hug since his freshman year.
“I’m going to miss this place quite a bit,” Soto said. “I’ll come back and visit for sure.”
He advises fellow Hug students to work hard and motivate themselves while examining various possibilities.
“It’s up to you what you do. Some people try to look for answers outside of themselves,” Soto said. “People can give you opportunities but you have to take them.”