Ready to share stage with Obama

May 15, 2009 

UC Merced Jason Castillo

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG Jason Castillo is the student speaker for the 2009 commencement ceremony. A native of Clovis, he has been accepted to the UCSF medical school. While at UC Merced, he founded Delta Epsilon Mu, a premed professional club. He is currently the Delta Epsilon Mu president.

MARCI STENBERG — Merced Sun-Star

UC Merced senior Jason Castillo is comfortable with public speaking.

The 21-year-old Clovis native will need to be this Saturday, when he addresses his class -- and their 11,000 guests -- as the student speaker at the campus' commencement ceremony.

Castillo earned the honor to perform through an audition process in March.

"There were so many qualified people that tried out," Castillo said. "I am humble to have been chosen and excited to give the address."

Castillo wouldn't reveal the text of the speech, but he did say that he wanted it to be inclusive of his fellow students and not just about his own experience.

"I did add some things, given that the first lady is coming," Castillo said.

Sam Fong, one of the UC Merced students vital in the campaign to bring Obama to campus, said he was also pleased with the selection of the student speaker.

"I'm happy with Jason as the choice," Fong said. "He really is a great guy, and I really think he can speak for all of us."

Fong and Castillo were two of the founding senators in UC Merced's student government when it was created in 2007.

"I referred to him as the voice of reason," Fong said. "When he spoke, people would listen."

Castillo's devotion to the campus earned him another distinction this year as well -- the university's Legacy Award.

"He served as a leader both in and out of the classroom by maintaining high academic achievement and founding several new organizations," said Charles Nies, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, at a recent awards ceremony. "His efforts infused others with a level of commitment to the campus."

In his four years, Castillo served three years in the student government, founded a coed pre-med student association and made time to serve on several administrative committees.

Castillo missed the Legacy Awards ceremony because he was at another dinner being honored for his work as a Straus Foundation scholarship recipient.

As a Straus Fellow, Castillo created a "Science in the Central Valley" outreach program to promote medical education to high school students from Merced to Visalia.

Castillo personally traveled to 40 schools in the Central Valley and sent out 40,000 informational pamphlets. He also organized a conference for 250 young aspiring medical students at Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno this year.

"These students want to go into something, but it's just a question of how to get there," Castillo said.

At one event, he met a young student who wanted to become a veterinarian, even though the student had never met such a doctor before.

Several of the students he spoke with continue to contact him for advice.

"I've found that they seem to prefer Facebook the most," Castillo chuckled.

Castillo said he'll try to continue the program when he starts his own medical education at UCSF this fall.

Graduating UC Merced with a perfect 4.0 grade point average and a degree in human biology with an emphasis in cell biology and development, Castillo was invited to interview at eight medical schools, including UCSF and Duke. After he got accepted to San Francisco, he didn't even go to three of the interviews.

Castillo doesn't know what type of medical practice he wants to open. For now, he's drawn to reconstructive plastic surgery or endocrinology.

Whatever he chooses, it will be a specialty that makes a difference in the world, he said. Ideally, he would like to help underserved populations in the Central Valley.

"I wouldn't want to be a doctor where there is a surplus of physicians," Castillo said. "I want to be in a place where I feel like I am making a difference."

That is something he's done in more than one way during his four years in Merced.

"Always there to promote, protect, and assist the university, he will leave a powerful legacy," Nies said at the awards night.

And part of it will be behind a microphone on a memorable day for thousands of Mercedians and others.

Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is one of several that have chronicled the lives of members of the UC Merced inaugural graduating class. As pioneers at UC Merced, their contributions will leave a lasting effect on the Merced community.

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