Less than two years ago, Jose Luis Bonilla arrived on an airplane in Buffalo with almost no knowledge of English.
Today he will leave the stage at the Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy with an armful of graduation awards and -- in sparkling English -- thank his parents and teachers for their help.
In two years, Jose, now 13, conquered a new language and a new culture. And he never missed a beat.
Jose will graduate from the South Elmwood Avenue school with an honor roll citation, a good citizenship award from the Sons of the American Revolution, a Presidential Academic Fitness Award and a deep sense of satisfaction.
"It makes me feel great," he said, "but not terribly surprised."
Jose was full of enthusiasm when his parents, Antonio Bonilla and Nilda Figueroa, decided to move to Buffalo from San German, Puerto Rico, in 1988. "I really wanted to come over," Jose said. "I wanted a new experience."
And he quickly made the English language his own.
"I studied," Jose said. "I put my mind into it. I made new friends who spoke English, and that forced me to speak the language and learn."
Jose, who never before had been to the United States mainland, concedes that he felt some culture shock when he first arrived here.
"It feels weird, but when you get used to it, you like it," he said.
At first, Jose learned his subject matter in Spanish-language classes, but about four months ago switched to English-language instruction. He graduated with a 92 average and participated in band and the Buffalo Engineering Awareness for Minorities program.
David Caban, principal of the Herman Badillo Academy, said Jose's transition from Spanish to English-language classes exemplifies the school's effort to teach students in their native languages while they master English.
Jose was able to accomplish that so quickly because of determination, good study habits and academic skills, the help of his teachers and strong support from his mother, a pharmacist's assistant, and his father, who works in a bakery, Caban said.
Next year Jose will attend Hutchinson Central Technical High School, where he will study computers and pursue an ambitious dream.
"I have an uncle in Puerto Rico who is a cardiologist," he said. "Since I was small, I always wanted to be a doctor."
More immediately, Jose is looking forward to taking French next year.
"I want to be trilingual," he said.