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Hillsboro senior plans to study aerospace engineering at prestigious university

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - File Aguilar, 18, will gradute from Hillsboro High School on Thursday with plans to study aerospace engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Aguilar is a first-generation high school graduate.When he was a freshman in high school, File Aguilar told his teachers he already had his future planned.

Now, as he prepares for graduation this week, those plans are about to come to fruition.

Aguilar will graduate from Hilhi on Thursday, June 6, with a full-ride scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the prestigious private research university that specializes in training some of the brightest minds in the country.

He plans to study aerospace engineering and robotics and said he'd like to work in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory someday.

"That's the goal," he said with a laugh.

Aguilar, like many of the students who will receive their diplomas from Hillsboro High, is a first-generation high school graduate. His parents emigrated from Michoacán, Mexico, in the 1980s with limited education, Aguilar said. The youngest of three, the 18-year-old grew up in Hillsboro, attending Witch Hazel and Rosedale elementary schools, then South Meadows Middle School, before coming to Hilhi.

Even from a young age, teachers said, MIT has always been on Aguilar's mind.

"I'd known File about 20 minutes when he made it strongly known that he was going to go to MIT," said Terry Alexander, a computer and physics teacher at Hilhi. "He loves math."

The road to MIT has been a long one. Committing himself to academics, Aguilar studied night and day.

"I did a lot of studying for the SATs," he said. "At MIT, you have to get almost a perfect score, it's really competitive. I remember being up at 1 a.m. taking a full practice test."

When news came that he'd been accepted, he couldn't believe it.

"I was so numb from all the work I'd done to get there," he said. "When it finally hit me that I got in, that's when the tears started coming down."

'Instantaneous moment of pure joy'

Aguilar's achievement is one many aspire to, but few obtain. MIT is widely seen as one of the top research universities in the country, and it's difficult for even the best students to gain admission. Of the 21,000 students who apply to MIT every year, only about 1,400 are accepted, according to the university, an acceptance rate of about 6%.

"I want to be in a community where people are passionate about mathematics," Aguilar said. "It's hard in places like high school, where kids aren't as passionate as I am."

After quickly outpacing his classmates, Aguilar now attends advanced math courses at Portland Community College twice a week.

"I love working with numbers and I wanted to go someplace where I would be challenged academically," Aguilar said. "I wanted someplace rigorous."

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - File Aguilar takes advanced math courses at Portland Community College and spent a year designing robots, which led him to a world robotics competition in Texas. Math, Aguilar said, is everywhere, and is vital to understanding how the world works.

"When you get into advanced maths, you are presented with a problem and you have all these tools and resources to tackle it down. After countless hours of thinking about it, when you finally see that solution? My robotics coach calls it the 'instantaneous moment of pure joy.' That keeps you going."

Mathematics has real-world applications, Aguilar said. A member of The Awesome Nerds, a neighborhood robotics team, he spent more than 40 hours each week perfecting a robot capable of moving and stacking items in a timed competition. His team made it to the World Robotics Championships earlier this year, along with teams from Glencoe and Liberty high schools.

"When you can take these concepts and put them into the world and see it work, like in engineering, it's great," he said. "You are designing and building, and it's amazing to see these concepts come to life."

'North Star and grit'

Teachers say they aren't surprised by Aguilar's accomplishments.

"He's legend among staff, peers and other struggling students for his dedication to tutoring all those who requested it, and especially those who needed a kick in the pants to admit their own lack of commitment and the necessity of getting back on the train," said Tami VanSlyke, a teacher at Hillsboro for 16 years, who added only one other student of hers has ever been accepted to MIT.

"He doesn't hesitate to call out his peers in holding them accountable to his perception of study," learning and achievement, she said.

Alexander, the Hilhi physics teacher, said she hasn't seen many students as committed as Aguilar is to his education.

"It's difficult to find people who appreciate the joy he has for learning," Alexander said. "His parents never went to college, so the fact that he's been able to accelerate in high school as he has is incredible. That all came from him. He said, 'This is what I need and here's how I'm going to get there.' That's not always easy. I've not seen too many students do that for themselves."

Aguilar believes in self-determination and making something of oneself, no matter where you come from, VanSlyke said.

"He is living proof that it can be done," VanSlyke said. "We talk about committing to our North Star, and grit. File will tell you that his North Star is pointed to MIT, and his grit is fundamental to his achievements."

VanSlyke said she'll miss Aguilar next year, but knows he's bound for something great.

"His moral compass has never wavered in its underpinnings of service to his peers, love of his family and exuberant, infectious passion for all things mathematical," she said. "The privilege and honor of having known this remarkable human being these last three years are without question, among the most cherished."

Hillsboro High School commencement will take place at 7 p.m. at Hillsboro Stadium, 4450 N.W. 229th Ave.

Check it out

Hillsboro School District graduations

Miller Education Center

Wednesday, June 5

7 p.m., Hillsboro High School, 3285 S.E. Rood Bridge Road

Hillsboro High School

Thursday, June 6

7 p.m., Hillsboro Stadium, 4450 N.E. Century Blvd.

Liberty High School

Friday, June 7

7 p.m., Hillsboro Stadium, 4450 N.E. Century Blvd.

Century High School

Saturday, June 8, 2019

3 p.m., Hillsboro Stadium, 4450 N.E. Century Blvd.

Glencoe High School

Saturday, June 8, 2019

7:30 p.m., Hillsboro Stadium, 4450 N.E. Century Blvd.



By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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