Victor Romos may not be in the top of his class at Santa Rosa High School, but there is little doubt "I'm going to succeed in life."
Since his freshman year, Romos has been an active member of Santa Rosa High's Future Farmers of America, a group that has helped strengthen his character and build his confidence.
Involvement in the group quickly laid the foundation for leadership roles as a member of the Gay Straight Alliance at Santa Rosa High and, more recently, as a peer counselor at Positive Images, a Santa Rosa support center for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual youths.
"He is genuinely earnest and unconditional toward people," said Jim Foster, a founder and current co-director of Positive Images. "I just see him leading . . . he's going to be a leader."
Romos, 18, is a first-generation American whose parents were immigrants from northern Mexico. He was born in Santa Rosa and grew up on the west side of town, first in Apple Valley and then near West Ninth Street.
When he was 6, his parents took him to visit grandparents in Mexico and he ended up staying there and attending school for an extended period. It was a dramatic shift from the somewhat laid-back environment of American schools, he said, one that involved more discipline and school uniforms.
"I didn't mind it, except for the white pants and the dirt roads," said Romos, recalling that time with a sense of humor and quick wit that Foster says he's known for.
His parents split up when he was a small child, and his mother, a self-employed house cleaner, raised him and his sister, he said.
When Romos was at Santa Rosa Middle School, a group of FFA students did a presentation to his class, bringing with them an array of trophies that planted a seed of interest in Romos. The FFA students took names for a raffle.
"I said, you want me to be a farmer? Sure, I'll be a farmer, for the raffle," he said. When he became a freshman at Santa Rosa High school, FFA "came back to me," and he joined.
Romos since has participated in a number of FFA-related leadership events and conferences, both locally and at the state and national level.
In 2009, he was a national delegate for the National FFA Convention, one of only 40 FFA delegates from California, he said.
"It was non-stop meetings and some fun stuff," he said, adding it was exciting to be around more than 50,000 FFA members from all over the country.
During the end of his sophomore year, Romos got involved with the school's Gay Straight Alliance, a school club that started in the early 1990s with the help of Positive Images. Originally dubbed the United Sexualities Club, the school's Gay Straight Alliance later joined the growing network of gay straight alliance clubs at schools across the country.
He soon started attending Positive Images general meetings, quietly sitting among other gay and lesbian teens who openly shared their experiences.
"At first, I just chilled and witnessed what PI did," he said.
Gradually, he started to trust his "gut feeling" and open up to others. He also quickly learned there was a great deal of diversity under the rainbow flag, the familiar standard of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.