MEET SAMUEL VILCHEZ SANTIAGO
Samuel's story is the story of our community:
one of hope, resilience, and perseverance.
At the age of 13, Samuel Vilchez Santiago and his family were forced to leave their home country of Venezuela after being politically persecuted by the totalitarian regime, relocating to Florida House District 48. Not knowing any English, Samuel struggled academically during his time at Stonewall Jackson Middle School, yet it was there where he realized the significance of his parents’ sacrifices. His mom, a former dentist, worked at a McDonald’s for four years. His Dad, a former small business owner and tech professional, worked at a car-wash and then drove cars at the airport for minimum wage. So, Samuel made it his goal to honor his parents’ sacrifices through academic achievement and community involvement.
Five years later, he graduated from Colonial High School as Valedictorian earning the school’s highest recorded GPA (a 5.46) and giving his graduation speech in English and Spanish, emphasizing the need for protecting Dreamers and immigrants. He also graduated with a perfect GPA from Valencia college as a dual-enrolled student. At Colonial, Samuel led the first voter registration drive in OCPS’s history, registering over 500 of his peers to vote in less than one week. He also led several food drives to help those in need in the Azalea Park community. Due to his work inside and outside of the classroom, Samuel was awarded President Obama’s Volunteer Service Award for completing over 4 thousand hours of community service and the Congressional Youth Award in the Gold medal category.
Samuel currently serves as the Florida Campaign Manager for All Voting is Local, a non-profit organization that focuses on expanding voting rights across the state. In 2018, he was appointed by Commissioner Mayra Uribe as a member of the Orange County Charter Review Commission, where he has championed the protection of the Split Oak Forest and our community’s right to access clean water, proposed the creation of an ethics commission, and has strived to make our local democracy more participatory. He is a Board member of the Orange County Democratic Hispanic Caucus, Voces Unidas por la Educación, and CCiudadano.
In his free time, Samuel likes to learn new words from his 2-year-old goddaughter Ashley and bond with his 15-year-old sister Aniuska. He’s recently picked up the Keyboard, which he practices when his puppy Rio decides he’s too tired to train or play.
Samuel went on to study at Princeton University, where he served as a voting member of the University’s Priorities committee that oversaw a $2 billion annual budget. While at Princeton, he created “Las Claves del Éxito,” a series of presentations in Spanish and totally free on the college admissions, financial aid, and scholarship application process. Since, “Las Claves del Éxito” has reached over 4 thousand Spanish-speaking families in the Central Florida region, including students and parents from Colonial, Cypress, and Freedom High schools. He also led the historic youth-powered campaign to get Johanna López elected as the first Latina and Puerto Rican in the Orange County School Board. He also served as the Communications Director for the Orlando March for Our Lives.
Samuel graduated with honors from Princeton University with a B.A. in Politics and minors in Latino Studies, Spanish, American Studies, and Latin American Studies. During graduation, he was recognized as a recipient of the Priscilla Glickman ‘92 Memorial Award, which is awarded to the graduating senior who has contributed the most to their community in an innovative and bold way. Due to his work, he was also a recipient of the “Spirit of Princeton” award and a Rhodes Scholar finalist.
President Obama's Volunteer Service Award
Awarded to Americans who complete over 4,000 hours of community service and/or volunteer work.
Congressional Youth Award (Gold Medalist)
Highest recognition by Congress to young Americans for the completion of recorded work in four key areas: service, physical fitness, development, and expedition.
Rhodes Scholarship (Finalist)
Selected to represent Florida as one of 15 Rhodes Scholar Finalists in the 7th U.S. District for academic achievement and community involvement and leadership.
OCPS School Board's Hispanic Heritage Celebration Award
Given by Orange County School Board member Johanna López to exceptional Latino leaders in our community.
The Priscilla Glickman '92 Memorial Prize
Awarded to the graduating Princeton University student who has demonstrated innovative thought and diligence in community service and volunteerism.
Spirit of Princeton Award
Recognizes a select group of Princeton students for their positive contributions to various facets of the University, including the arts, community service, student organizations, residential living, religious life, and athletic endeavors.
Hispanic Scholarship Fund's Male Scholar of the Year (Finalist)
Selected as one of five Male Scholar of the Year finalists from across the country from a poll of tens of thousands of Hispanic Scholarship Fund scholars.
Mount Vernon Leadership Fellowship
Highly selective summer institute offering unparalleled learning and networking opportunities at the home of America's first president just outside our nation's capital.
Colonial High School Valedictorian
Graduated with the highest G.P.A in the school's history and gave graduation speech in English and Spanish to emphasize the importance of our immigrant communities.
OCPS Super Scholar
Awarded by SuperIntendent Barbara Jenkins to OCPS graduates who have been accepted to at least one of the top 20 universities in the country,
Gates Millenium Scholarship
Promotes academic excellence and provides an opportunity for outstanding minority students with significant financial need to reach their highest potential.
Achievement-based scholarship awarded to students for their capacity to lead and serve, as well as their commitment to making a significant impact on their schools and communities.
Bank of America Student Leaders Award
Selected as one of five Bank of America Student Leaders in Central Florida to complete a community service fellowship at the Boys&Girls Club and attend a week-long policy symposium in Washington, D.C.
*names of organizations provided for biographical purposes only.