New London -- Up at 6 a.m., to school by 7:30 a.m., yearbook editing until 4:30 p.m. and back to school at 6 p.m. for four hours of play practice. Some days there were peer counseling, multicultural club and travel club meetings, track practice and a part-time job to report to at the mall. And, of course, at the end of the day, homework for a challenging load of honors level classes.
So it went for most of Brenda DeLosSantos' four years at New London High School. The busy days kept the 17-year-old New London native — set to graduate next week as the number five student — motivated and organized, she said.
“I like to stay busy,” DeLosSantos said. “It's more fun like that. It makes everything go by faster and makes everything more memorable.
“Oh, and I just remembered — I'm the class treasurer, too,” DeLosSantos added with a chuckle. “I forgot about that.”
Too good to be true? No, say her classmates, teachers and the school's administrators. Not only is she smart, responsible and dedicated to all her activities, she is a humble, caring and popular student with a good sense of humor, they say.
“I don't know how she finds the time with just the yearbook alone,” said Shalimar Wuyke, the school's dean of students. “She's very responsible, very well-liked, very sweet and academically, she's up there with the best. She's very well-behaved and hard working.”
DeLosSantos, who was born and raised in New London and lives on Blackhall Street with her parents, Danny and Dilphia DeLosSantos, has been rewarded for her accomplishments. With a high GPA, she has won several college scholarships and will attend Boston University in the fall. She plans to explore her options career-wise and academically.
“I enjoy doing everything so much. That's one of the reasons I have no idea what I want to do, because I like so many different things,” she said.
“It's been the same way with a lot of activities,” she said. “I'll say, 'Oh that's fun. I'll try this out on a whim.' ”
That was her reasoning with the drama club, which she joined freshman year, and the track team, though she is not a stellar athlete. This year, though hesitant about her singing ability, she landed the lead in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” She is also passionate about art — she enjoys painting and drawing.
“She's a risk-taker,” said Ramel Murphy, 17, a friend who has had every class with DeLosSantos since the sixth grade.
Murphy said DeLosSantos is an extremely good listener, and is often the person their friends look to for advice or counsel. “Through thick and thin, she's there for her friends,” he said.
One veteran teacher recalls one example of DeLosSantos' thoughtfulness and generosity.
“There's one kid in the class who struggles, who is absent often and she has done everything that is humanly possible to get this kid to come in and to get her to graduate,” said Karen Barry, who will retire this year after teaching history at the school for 34 years.
By her own admission, although thoughtful, DeLosSantos is also stubborn, often insisting on doing things her way.
“If she's not happy about something, she'll whine about it and then she'll do something about it,” said Meg Mahon, the school's career center coordinator. “It's because she cares so much.”
Her dedication and positive attitude are products of her upbringing with a close knit-family, including nearly two dozen relatives spread throughout New London County, Wuyke says.
Her maternal grandparents came to New London from Puerto Rico when her mother was a little girl. Her father, born in the United States, has ethnic ties to both the Philippines and Puerto Rico.
She says she feels a strong connection to both cultures. “When I go to my grandparents,' my grandmother always has a pot of rice and beans on the stove,” she said of her maternal grandparents. “There are so many things special to me about Puerto Rico and its culture.”
With her father's side of the family, she has fond memories of her grandmother cooking traditional Filipino dishes.
“My grandparents are so special to me, I don't know what I'd do without them. I love them so much.”
When school ends, DeLosSantos will continue working at the mall and then head to college. After that?
“Whatever I do, it's going to have to be creative and in a job where I have some kind of creative control,” she said. “I want to go everywhere — China and places in Africa. I want to live in different places, too. I'd be happy living in LA, Florida, Europe. I want to experience all cultures, all things.”