Leading up to the start of the fall semester, FIU News will be highlighting several standout members of the Class of 2022.
Angela Santalo had just finished watching the film James and the Giant Peach with her family, when the smell of smoke filled the room. Her mother shouted, “We have to leave… Now!”
A fire had started in the dryer. It quickly spread, and the house was soon engulfed in flames. The Santalo family lost countless treasured, irreplaceable possessions: Her father’s original paintings, family photo albums, Santalo’s dance leotards and flamenco skirt, and the documents her grandparents had brought to Miami when they left Cuba.
From the ashes, the family rose up stronger – and eight-year-old Santalo learned a priceless lesson: We can shape our reactions to any situation.
Santalo recently graduated from St. Brendan High School with a 4.99 GPA – and is a part of FIU’s best freshman class in university history. She says art was a big part of helping her heal – and excel.
“One day, my mom burst into our rental with Dollar Store plastic bags hanging on her forearms full of art supplies,” Santalo remembers. “She said, ‘Make something beautiful! Let’s decorate these bland walls with some Santalo flavor.’”
With every drawing and painting, Santalo discovered that art can “reinvent our realities.”
In middle school, Santalo wanted to bring the healing power of art to others. She started an art appreciation club with her brother Cesar – who also is an FIU student – and began taking groups of local children to visit Art Basel, Viernes Culturales, the PAMM and the Wolfsonian-FIU. After a very successful year, she knew there was more that she could give to the community.
While she balanced school – along with her many extracurricular activities, including dancing at Conchita Espinosa Academy and participating in numerous high school theater productions – Santalo turned the art appreciation club into a non-profit called Art for Others.
The organization lives up to its name: It brings art to those who need it most. Santalo routinely visits the Ronald McDonald’s House Charities and Centro Mater to host art workshops and donate supplies.
On a trip to the Miami Ronald McDonald House, she met a little girl undergoing chemotherapy, who asked for more paper and color pencils so that she could keep drawing. The next time, Santalo knew she needed to bring more materials.
“I want to give them the tools to make something beautiful, even in dark times,” Santalo said.
The time she’s spent with sick children has inspired Santalo to continue this important and life-changing work by becoming a nurse.
Santalo was accepted into several top-rated universities. She chose FIU to continue giving back. As both a Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences and FIU Honors College student, Santalo will have the opportunity to continue making a difference.
“Angela represents everything we look for in an FIU student,” said Laura C. Castillo, director of the Office of Scholarships. “Not only did she excel academically in high school, but was also an active member of her school community, participating in several clubs and honor societies. We can’t wait to see what she accomplishes at FIU.”
Santalo is looking forward to starting class this fall. She’s also looking forward to returning to the Miami Ronald McDonald House. On her last visit, she saw the same little girl that had asked for more paper and pencils. She tugged at Santalo’s shirt and whispered, “I was sick, but not anymore. Do you think I can have hair like Princess Jasmine?”
Santalo sat down with the little girl and drew a portrait of her with long, flowing hair.