WCU’s First ADN Valedictorian: Damian Castillo

Ten years ago, Damian Castillo was the valedictorian of West Coast University’s first associate degree in nursing cohort.

Since then, he’s also become a husband, a father of two and a homeowner — but he’s always remained a nurse.

WCU no longer offers associate degrees, but Castillo and his fellow graduates have gone on to work in the field of nursing for a decade and continue to provide an excellent example of the gradates West Coast University produces.

Castillo, who is now employed full-time at Kaiser Permanente as a psychiatric nurse, recently took time on his day off to share about his experience at WCU and what being a nurse means to him. Below, we’ve reprinted the introduction that was read to the commencement audience before Castillo’s valedictorian address.


“Who is this kid?”

Damian CastilloWhile most of Damian’s classmates from La Habra High School are still trying to find the right career path, Damian Castillo, the valedictorian of the first associate degree in nursing graduating class at West Coast University, is ready, at age 23, to begin his career as a registered nurse.

Graduating with a 4.0 GPA certainly is achievement enough, but Damian’s triumph is especially gratifying given the personal obstacles he has overcome, along with his “creative” strategy for getting around the nursing education gridlock in the California State University system.

Despite a critical nursing shortage and his 3.3 GPA in prerequisites, Damian was one of 60 percent of qualified applicant’s who are turned away from our state schools due to lack of space and faculty. Fortunately, this setback was short-lived because his aunt gave him what proved to be valuable advice: apply to a vocational nursing program, and then later apply to an LVN-to-RN bridge program. Damian took his aunt’s advice and graduated third in his LVN class and promptly passed the LVN licensing exam.

One day, after working for about a year as an LVN at Placentia Linda Hospital in Yorba Linda, Damian saw an ad for an LVN-to-RN bridge program. He applied to the school and was accepted into a program that had no wait-list and required no prerequisites to start. The program was only 80 weeks but because he already had many of the prerequisite courses he was able to transfer them and started into the 40-week nursing course portion in April 2006.

Damian’s life, especially his early childhood years was burdened by hardship. Beginning at age 3, Damian and his older brother were separated and spent the next four years in foster care. Although both his parents were in the medical field and well-educated, they had significant health problems and were unable to care for the boys. At age 7, although Damian and his brother were reunited with their mother, they needed ongoing help from government assistance programs. When Damian was 13, his mother suffered a massive heart attack and finally died in May 1999. He went to live with his aunt and uncle.

The legacy left by Damian’s mother was one of discovering the work you love to do, the work that makes you happy. She never once tried to push him into a medical career, but she certainly inspired him with her passion and dedication to the nursing profession.

Dr. Gloria Blatti, the dean of the Los Angles campus of West Coast University, remembers her first encounter with Damian. She was giving an extensive exam on leadership and management, which he finished in 15 minutes — and got an A. When he turned it in, Dr. Blatti thought to herself, “Who is this kid?” and several months later in February 2007 when word hit the campus that Damian finished the NCLEX exam in 30 minutes, nobody believed him. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction because Damian officially is a registered nurse.

Damian’s story is one of triumph over adversity, of continuing to believe in yourself and never letting go of a passion to help people by becoming a RN. Now, ready to dedicate himself to the work he truly loves, Damian remains pragmatic.

“My advice to others is to pursue your dreams, do what you love to do, not for money or fame, but because you are really passionate and driven about the work,” he said.

WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.