Chula Vista, California — 10 miles from the Mexican border, in Tijuana, lived a kid named Robert Valerio Rigonan. His mother was a government clerk and his father a factory worker.
Robert Valerio Rigonan, born to Yolanda, and Robert Rigonan. Rigonan grew up in Chula Vista, California. Where he was raised by his aunts and grandmother. Being Filipino Robert wasn't really exposed to the English language around his family seeing that they spoke Tagalog, which would impact him later on when he would start school. His mother’s side of the family owned Filipino bakeries where Rigonan says his fondest memories as a young kid live.
As a child he gravitated toward his mother more they both enjoyed shopping, dancing, and singing. Rigonan hoped to become a doctor one day, that was until he realized he was terrified of blood. But as Rigonan said, “My life changed when I learned about the rainforest in 3rd grade.”
Rigonan wasn’t always the brightest students in elementary early on. But as time went on it got better. He can remember a time in 1st grade where he would pick up a book and pretend to be reading whilst looking at the pictures. But by the end of his elementary school days, he worked his way up to the top, even getting an award, where each teacher recognized the top students. Middle school as he said, “ in one word, awkward”. Some days he would embrace his heritage, other days he would believe that his saxophone was his whole life. Overall MS was a confusing time for him.
High school for Robert had ups and downs. During his freshmen year, Robert’s dad, Robert, had a heart attack. Robert has to undergo heart surgery to fix the damage, it resulted in him not being able to do his job. His mother ended up being fired after his dad’s surgery. Both of his parents worked with one of his uncles to open up a bakery. Both Yolanda and Robert hated the bakery. They were never able to see each other with his parents at work. Rigonan turned this negative experience into something positive, he credits that year to the year where he became independent seeing that he had to take care of himself and his little brother Radley. By the end of the year, Robert and his family moved back to Chula Vista.
Uc Berkeley was Rigonan’s dream school but he didn't quite meet the requirements. However, due to his community service hours, he was accepted. Now he chose to major in environmental science, due to his interest in the environment that started back in 3rd grade. Not only that but the impact that his AP environmental science teacher, Mr. Sixtus, had on him.
It was in his sophomore year in college when Rigonan was robbed at gunpoint. Two men in a ski mask held a gun to his head after breaking into his apartment. With this being a traumatic experience, it sent him into a spiral of depression and he developed post-traumatic stress disorder or also known as PTSD. Both of these mental problems made it hard for him to focus and concentrate in school, it caused his grades to lower, as he said: “my grades were the lowest they've ever been”. After this incident, he had a hard time finding purpose.But over time he found out how to cope with it. He thought about how he wasn't the issue but rather the two masked men were the victims. How the systems we have in place preventing them from getting a better education, causing them to commit crimes like this. It was that, that made him want to become a teacher. Not only that but he pushed through to finish his degree.
Mr. Rigonan's first day as a teacher was interesting, and scary as he described it. He wore a sweater vest and tie which he never really liked.over the course of his teaching career, he had his fair shares of ups and downs. There were moments where his students made him feel like he hasn't done what he set out to do whether it was the fact that his students were acting up, or just because the students couldn't understand the material. But there were moments where he felt a sense of pride in his students where he felt that he had accomplished what he set out to do. Those moments were the smallest thing such as his students understanding a concept for the first time, or the project that they made for his class.
It was during his teaching career that he asked himself again if he was meeting his goal of improving, understanding, and changing the systems. His answer was no. Therefore he saw that another option was to go to law school. He has spent 3 years in law school, graduating in May 2017. It was here that he spent those three years learning how these systems work in order to ensure fairness and be an advocate for people and their community.
During our interview, I introduced a fact about mental health, which is “Twenty-eight percent of lawyers experience mild or higher levels of depression, 19% experience anxiety, 23% experience chronic levels of stress, and 20.6% of participants struggle with problematic drinking,” in lawyers. Even though He is yet to be a lawyer There are moments where He has felt some of those things. Law school is structured in a different way that it's very competitive, and your grade really only depends on your final exam. Robert has always been a high performing student up until college where he ha received his first C in law school which made him feel like a failure. But it was his very own students who kept him going and the message it would send it he just gave up on his dream.
From being a teacher to transitioning to being a law student he has always had the support of his former students, friends, and family. His mother saying that she is “very proud that you followed your dreams. I am glad I can say my son is a lawyer.”