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After family tragedy, LRHS senior refocuses to graduate

Cristal Aguillon doesn't let hardships stop her from becoming the first in her family to attend college.

Cristal Aguillon, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, will be the second in her family to graduate high school and the first to go to college.
Cristal Aguillon, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, will be the second in her family to graduate high school and the first to go to college.
Photo by Liz Ramos
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During the summer before Cristal Aguillon started her freshman year at Lakewood Ranch High School, she experienced a trauma that eventually would inspire her to refocus on education. 

One July night, there was a banging on the door at her family’s home in Okeechobee.

Aguillon woke to the news that her brother Cobi Hernandez had been shot in the head by a friend and was headed to the hospital. Throughout the night, he became unresponsive multiple times.

She would later find out his collar bone was broken and he lost his eye as a result of the gunshot wound and he would need to stay in the hospital for months. He eventually recovered.

“I never thought in a million years something like this would happen to my family,” Aguillon said.

The traumatic experience changed her life. 

School wasn’t always a priority for Aguillon. She knew she was smart, but she didn’t always apply herself in school.

But that was going to change.

“I thought, ‘If I keep acting this way, it’s not going to get me anywhere in life,” Aguillon said. “I needed to get my life straight and start acting better. It was hard, but it’s something I overcame, and I’m glad I did.”

Her family moved to Bradenton, and when she started at Lakewood Ranch High School, she was focused on her studies.

Four years later her work has paid off. Aguillon will be the second in her family to graduate from high school on May 16 at LECOM Park, and she will be the first in her family to go to college.

“(Graduating) is so important to me because I want to make it up to my parents since they never got to finish high school or go off to college,” Aguillon said. “I want to achieve more for myself and for them and get us into a higher position of education for all of us.”

The road to graduation wasn’t without its challenges. 

Aguillon spent her years in elementary school as a migrant student. Her family would spend the summer in Ohio or New Jersey picking vegetables and return to Okeechobee in October. With the school year already two months in session, she was behind academically. She would work with teachers and classmates to get the help she needed to catch up. 

In middle school, her parents, Luz Hernandez and Alvaro Aguillon, who always have highly valued education, decided only Alvaro Aguillon would travel for work so their children could focus on their education in Florida.

In the summer before eighth grade, Aguillon and her family were faced with uncertainty. Her father was detained by immigration officials although he had the paperwork needed to show he was allowed to work and be in the U.S. 

When her mother came home alone late at night and Aguillon heard her crying, Aguillon knew something wasn’t right. Hearing her father was detained and moved to Miami terrified her. 

Aguillon stepped up when she could, doing chores around the house and making meals for the family. She said it was a sad time seeing her mother lonely and tired from worry.

The family hired a lawyer to help her father, but it took a month before he could return home.

The following year included the trauma of her brother being shot.

But after starting her freshman year, Aguillon said she was on the right track. She was doing well in school and was happy. 

Then in her sophomore year, she started to slip up again. She said her sister Sandra Aguillon convinced her to skip school more than she should have and that resulted in her getting behind and her grades slipping. 

“It felt like (school) didn’t really matter to me,” Aguillon said. “At some point, it clicked in my head. I was like, ‘I need to graduate. I need to start going to school. At the time, I really loved going to school. I was like, ‘Why is it now that I don’t want to go to school? What’s going on with me?”

She began going to school every day again and brought her grades up. 

Aguillon will attend the State College of Florida to study business and finance for two years before transferring to the University of South Florida. 

Although she’s nervous to be the first in her family to take this step, she’s overwhelmed with pride as well. 

She hopes to someday own her own business, but first she wants to help her parents who own a landscaping business and a cleaning service. She wants to give back to them as a way to thank them for their love and support and teaching her valuable life skills. 



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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