Daniel Villarreal, the son of a former gang member, won the “Laws of Life” essay contest for high school students at the fourth annual Character Education Leadership Academy at the University of San Diego June 26.
“Seeing my father put his past of gang violence behind him and graduate from San Diego State University was inspiring,” wrote Villarreal. “My father’s sacrifices have made me pledge to myself that I would work hard to excel and make education my first priority, to prove to him that I respect and appreciate everything he has done for our family.”
The contest, in which elementary, junior and senior high school students write from the heart about the ideals and beliefs that matter most to them, was started in 1987 by the Sir John Templeton Foundation. Some 60,000 students participate each year in contests in their communities around the globe. This is the first time the contest has been held in San Diego.
Villarreal graduated last month from San Diego High School and will attend the University of California at Davis this fall. His father, Daniel Villarreal, works as a peer counselor. His mother is Martha Villarreal. The family lives in San Diego.
Daniel Villarreal read his essay a loud at the awards ceremony. The academy, sponsored by USD’s International Center for Character Education, brought educators from around the world to discuss how character education can prevent youth violence and conflict and promote ethics and citizenship.
Villarreal and winners in the middle/junior high and elementary school divisions each received a plaque and $100. The prizes were sponsored by the law firm of Luce Forward Hamilton and Scripps.