FORMER JOURNALIST AND senator-turned-philanthropist Carlotta Leon Guerrero has been a public figure on Guam for decades. She hasn’t changed much since her days roaming the halls of George Washington High School, where she graduated in 1973.
“At the time, my ambition was that I wanted to do important things. I cared really deeply even back then about vulnerable people, vulnerable populations. If you saw anybody getting bullied in class, I’d have to stand up against that. I wasn’t exactly sure what path it was going to take me, but I just knew that I didn’t want to focus my life on amassing wealth. I didn’t think that way. Even at a young age,” Carlotta recalled.
She was always a member of the student council, played volleyball and chess, worked on the yearbook, and joined the cheerleading at every game. When a float was needed for homecoming or Liberation Day, Carlotta and her friends would be there to work on it.
She’s immortalized in the yearbook, together with her high school sweetheart, Joe Calvo. She gave a good hearty laugh at the memory. “All through school you can always remember there were these couples, you know. And we were one of these couples. He was on the football team and I was a cheerleader, and we had a lot of classes together. So we were that couple walking around—him in his jersey, me in my uniform; where you walk and you’ve got your hands stuck in his back pocket. You know that couple? We were that couple! Inseparable!” she said.
Carlotta fondly remembered her teachers and classes. Mrs. Hagan’s advanced Eastern Civilizations, Mr. Steen’s advanced Literature, and Mr. Bunyan’s advanced Biology class made big impressions upon her.
She could still recite the first three stanzas of THE CANTERBURY TALES, since Mr. Steen told them that would be better to do than cursing when stuck in traffic. Mr. Bunyan’s lesson of observation in the limestone forest taught her to appreciate stillness, and to be a leader. “There was a group of students working with me, and they were so sweet. They let me do everything. It was a version of lead, follow, or get out of the way, and I learned that on this plot in limestone forest,” Carlotta reminisced.
Carlotta also loved courses in Government, Civics, and History—subjects that would serve her well in the years to come. She reflected, “I feel that my years in high school, and the time that I spent at GW, the friends that I made, the things that we did, I felt that it was really formative. And I had a great time. I almost feel guilty when you hear people [talking of how they] have a tortured high-school experience. [For my part] I felt challenged. I felt encouraged.”
It was also the 1970s. Students would organize and challenge the administration. Carlotta said there’s no way they would have stood for a uniform policy in those days. “At the time I was part of a student group that argued for the right to smoke on campus,” she revealed. “So my senior year, you could smoke on campus, and the only caveat was that you couldn’t smoke in the classroom. Hard to even imagine right now.”
Every time she’s been asked to go back to GW and speak, she thought it was a real honor. “I hope everybody has the honor of being asked to go back to your alma mater to give comments. When you get to go back to your school and speak in front of the student body it's just an exceptional thing,” she said.
The current GW campus dates to 1965, and Carlotta felt the time to give the home of the Geckos an update is long overdue. “It doesn't feel that long ago when I'm there because the building looks exactly the same as when I was there,” she said. “Yes, I'm putting in a plug here. I know it must be on a schedule. Because I have watched so many other schools get fixed and rehabbed, and it's got to be now. It's been in a holding pattern for too long.”
“I almost feel guilty when you hear people [talking of how they] have a tortured high-school experience. [For my part] I felt challenged. I felt encouraged.”
Carlotta has remained bubbly and optimistic, because that spirited cheerleader in purple and gold hasn’t changed much. She recalled when she was chief of staff to the lieutenant governor, and she had a very dear friend come to see her. He was fighting cancer. “I could tell that he was feeling really low, and I just happened to have this CD with the song on it that we used to do a pompom routine to. I said, ‘OK this is a one time only, and whenever you're feeling really blue or really sad and you need a pick-me-up, I want you to remember this moment.’” Then she got out her pompoms made of paper, and performed her old GW cheer routine to The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” right there in the big lieutenant governor’s office in Adelup.
Carlotta laughed at the memory. “It was a pretty sight when I was 16, but not so much at 56, and I haven’t done it since then, but I still remember it—and it worked. He cracked up with joy, watching this woman work so hard. So once a cheerleader always a cheerleader!”
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