Douglas senior overcame language barrier to graduate |

Douglas senior overcame language barrier to graduate

by Amy Alonzo
Douglas High School senior Luis Velasquez moved to the Carson Valley from Honduras three years ago. He overcame several obstacles to earn his diploma.
Amy Alonzo |


What: Douglas High School commencement ceremony

When: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Douglas High School, 1670 Highway 88

Graduating high school comes easy for some students, but for others, it’s an uphill battle.

Douglas High School senior Luis Velasquez, 18, arrived in the Carson Valley three years ago. He had limited English skills and had left his mom behind in his native Honduras, but none of that has stopped Velasquez from pushing toward graduation.

“I have never seen a student work so hard,” said counselor Vanessa Ozolins. “His education is paramount and Luis understands that is the key to a better life … I know he will go on to do great things.”

Prior to moving to the Carson Valley, Luis and his parents lived in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. San Pedro Sula is one of the largest cities in the country, and in 2015, the Latin American Working Group identified the city as the most dangerous place on Earth outside of a war zone, with a 2014 murder rate of 171 per 100,000 people.

Luis’ paternal grandmother, a U.S. citizen, was able to file for paperwork to get Luis and his dad into the country, and in 2014 they moved to Indian Hills, leaving Luis’ mother behind.

Luis started at Douglas as a sophomore. The first day of school, “I was so scared,” he said. “I didn’t know anyone.”

He had learned some English in school in Honduras, but wasn’t comfortable speaking the language. On his first day at Douglas he didn’t understand his class schedule and went to the wrong room.

“I was like, oh boy, first day, I made a mistake,” he said.

He slowly made friends and through English as a second language (ESL) classes, and the encouragement of a friend who urged him to speak English as much as possible, he became fluent.

“I took his advice,” Luis said. “I’m really grateful that he encouraged me.”

Going into his senior year, Luis decided he didn’t want to take ESL classes anymores — instead, he signed up for classes including speech, statistics and advanced placement (AP) psychology.

Without the help of ESL classes his GPA dropped slightly, to around 2.85, but “I like how I can do stuff by myself,” he said. “I made this progress and I’m proud I did it. I like the satisfaction.”

Luis works part time at a fast food restaurant in Carson City, and in the fall he plans to keep working and attending Western Nevada College. He wants to become a lawyer.

“I like the idea of helping,” he said.

Luis talks with his mom on the phone around once a week, but he said if there was one thing he would like for graduation, he’d like to have his mom there. Instead, he will celebrate with a dinner with the rest of his family, knowing that he has worked hard to get where he is today.

“I could do more, but I did the best that I can,” he said.