RAISED BY A PAIR OF longtime public-school-educators-turned administrators, Sen. Mike San Nicolas was destined to attend public school. And he did, right up until the last stretch of his compulsory education.
It was the start of the young San Nicolas's unconventional path through high school. Instead of just going to one, he attended three. "I just wanted to try it out," he explained.
Originally set to attend George Washington High School, San Nicolas took a sharp turn to the island’s only all-boys parochial school, Father Duenas Memorial School. "It was a little different, but I enjoyed it," he said.
As a teenager from Talofofo who had only ever attended public school, San Nicolas found himself in a place where most students already knew each other. It was the only real barrier he had come across while changing schools. “But I made friends and got to know my classmates, who were in private school their entire lives. The education was just as good, the same level as we were on in public school," he recalled.
San Nicolas also played basketball in his new high school, another means of adjusting to a different place. Come his sophomore year, however, he was itching for a move.
His father was given a job at John F. Kennedy High School, and San Nicolas wanted in. "So I had a ride up there. I said, ‘Let’s go up there, public school at JFK.’ I really enjoyed it too because that's where I met my wife. We were friends in high school. It was definitely a good decision, and it was the first time I had ever attended a school so far north," he said.
The furthest he'd ever traveled for school was when he attended Agueda Johnston Middle School.
"My first days at FD and JFK were nerve-racking. You don't know anybody. You try to go in there and to get to know people, and you kind of fall into place. I didn't have problems adjusting," San Nicolas reminisced.
But when junior year rolled in, he no longer had a ride to Tamuning. His dad had left the school, and the teen was faced with moving again. He chose to return to FD. "It was easy, like reconnecting with the old gang," San Nicolas said.
Two nonconsecutive years at FD, however, weren't enough to keep him tied down. San Nicolas would move to one more school in his senior year, Southern High School, in school year 1997-1998. It was also the first year the Santa Rita school opened its doors.
Southern’s population was a mix of mostly students from Inarajan High School and Oceanview High School that have both shut down. It almost felt like a social experiment, according to San Nicolas. "When I went to Southern High, I knew my village boys. They were always nice to me. It was cool, but I hung out with a lot of the Oceanview students. I didn't really see things as one or the other. I didn't have any real lines drawn between the two. That probably came from me jumping from two different schools previously, and I wasn't coming as an Inarajan student or an Oceanview student," he said.
Although basketball helped him transition to each school, San Nicolas, who was a senior then, found his stride in academics at Southern High. "Senior year was where I found mock trial. It's where I found my talent for public speaking. I realized I was very good at it, and I had peers who also were very good at it. But I was also very big on social studies and government and had a really good teacher who passed away, Ms. Lizama-James," he declared, adding that he and the other students were like sponges in her government class.
"Her curriculum was very flexible, and she allowed us to be more hands-on in how we addressed the issues. She kind of lit that spark in us to be willing to look at things at a different angle and do the research and the work to change things and make them better," San Nicolas added. Twenty years ago, they discussed the island's political status and even the issue of the plebiscite, a hot topic he tackles today as a lawmaker.
San Nicolas graduated from Southern High in 1998, and began to pursue a History degree in college. But that path diverged, as well, and he moved on to Finance that eventually brought him a career in banking where he rose to the position of assistant vice president and wealth management advisor at the Bank of Guam. That was until he felt the call to public service.
"I really have a spiritual side that a lot of people don't know about,” San Nicolas affirmed. “I really think that things come together as long as you maintain that connection with God. [That] things will eventually come together even though they look like they are completely of different worlds. So my high school experiences in mock trial, history, and social studies converged with my professional passions for finance to create the public official I am today where I do have a very strong desire to peruse positive change in government. I'm very mindful of our history, of where we have been and how we need to do things differently to move ourselves forward. I'm very cognizant of how our financial situation plays a very, very critical part in all of it."
San Nicolas continued, "My high school experiences show me a number of things. It showed me that [the difference in] private school and public school, it doesn't matter. We have brilliant students in both schools. We have excellent teachers in both schools. And you can establish lifelong networks in both schools that will stay with you for the rest of your life and pay dividends. If I were to take anything from it, go where your heart takes you when it comes to high school. Put in everything you’ve got regardless where you are."
"My high school experiences show me a number of things. It showed me that [the difference in] private school and public school, it doesn't matter. We have brilliant students in both schools. We have excellent teachers in both schools.”
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