Senior Spotlight: Cristian Castillo

Juan Zuniga-Mejia


One of Whittier College’s students of the arts and humanities that will be walking the stage at graduation this May is fourth-year Cristian Castillo. As a Double Major in English and Theater, with an emphasis in both Creative Writing and Performance, Castillo has dedicated his four-year experience at Whittier towards his vision of living a life for creating.

Castillo was raised in Mexico until he was 10 years old. When his grandmother passed away, his mother saw that they had few family members in their home country — most having moved to the U.S. already. “My mom kind of took a leap. We needed change,” said Castillo. “There was a lot of poverty. There was a lot of violence. It wasn’t safe.” In the U.S., his family moved from Colorado to several cities in California until they made their home in Whittier. 

Whittier College offered Castillo plenty of financial support, which he appreciated. When visiting the campus, he realized that the College would give him what he needed to create the life he wanted. “You can shape it at your liking, and that’s what really attracted me — to have that control to be able to really take my experience and make it what I wanted it to be,” said Castillo. He found the opportunity to carve his own life as a blessing. 

Growing up, Castillo had always been a performer and found inspiration in the arts and humanities. From on-campus internships through the Dean of Students Office and the Office of International Programs, to off-campus internships at the LA Opera and OUT Magazine, his time at the College was a time of exploring.

During his time with OUT Magazine, Castillo thought about studying sociology, as the program provided a great field experiences with queer-related activism. After exploring himself as a performer and through the various internships he participated in, he found his passion in creative writing.

Castillo claims that writing and performing never stop evolving; that he never wants to stop improving his skills. “Because they are my disciplines, they are my disciplines for life. It’s in my hand to wake up each morning and touch them, play them, interact with them,” said Castillo. Being an artist and creator is a major part in Castillo’s being. As an artist, he believes his content is his way to speak out loud. “It’s such an important time to be an artist. I think if you have something to say, you have to say it.” He carries a notebook as he walks around campus in case inspiration strikes for a new song, script, or music.

Castillo does not believe that his future is to become famous and to perform for a living. What he does believe in is that, as an artist, he can envision a life that he enjoys. He always sees himself on the stage — being a director, writing, and bringing people together to make art. “That is something that, even if I’m not getting paid, or I’m doing it from my terrace, I know I’ll be doing it,” said Castillo. This is how Castillo knows that art and performance are not only hobbies or passions, but an extension of who he is. “What you really discover is that if you love it, you can carve out the life you need for your expression,” said Castillo. 

Currently, Castillo has his production, Rose in the Desert, coming to life Thursday, April 5 at 7 p.m. in the Shannon Center’s Studio Theater. The production was inspired by Whittier College — not directly by figures on campus, but, rather, the experiences around the campus. The people who come with dreams of making their families proud and accomplishing their goals in life are what inspired Castillo’s production. The story he tells is the journey of a girl named Rose and her decision to make her own step forward for her life. The play reflects the reality of being a student, going to classes, and trying to find a way to connect back to home — finding a medium in life. “Once you hop out of the nest and you’re figuring out your own purpose in life, how do you leave the nest without it breaking? How do you keep part of it with you?” asked Castillo as he explained the essence of his production. Many key inspirations for how he presents that core theme come from his own Hispanic heritage and from parent-child relationships, which are important to him.

In addition to his play, Castillo is also preparing himself for his life after graduation. He has applied to many graduate schools: Yale, Northwestern University, University of Santa Barbara, and Mount Saint Mary College. Castillo’s ambition for graduate school is to earn a PhD in performance. He does not plan to drop his studies in English and he looks forward to write more. The path is currently unclear as for which school Castillo will be attending, but he stays calm as he says, “It’s all going to be determined by God.”

As graduation approaches, Castillo reflects on the person he was when he first came to Whittier, and who he is now that he is leaving. He finds that he has become bolder, braver, less apologetic, and prouder. “When I came on to the campus, I felt like I was ashamed of something, or I was owing something to somebody. And I think that we all feel like that when we’re young. We just feel like we’re carrying something that doesn’t allow us to fully click in,” said Castillo. After dedicating his years to Whittier and using programs and opportunities to shape the best parts of himself, he feels that he is blooming into the person he always dreamed of being. “Nobody tells you that’s how college is, but that’s how it is for everybody. Every senior feels that right now, they’re finally reaching that point, and it’s because that point was always there,” said Castillo. “We were always able to reach it. We just didn’t know.”

Throughout all the opportunities that Whittier College has provided Castillo, he will miss the staff and professors who were key figures to his college exeperience most. These staff members, as Castillo says he has told them, have all been accepting, embracing, and candid auras that inspired him to continue his work to carving his best self. “Whittier really is a family. It’s crazy, and cheesy, but it really is. When it comes down to it, we’re just a little network of people,” said Castillo. He is touched and grateful to the staff that has reached out and given him a helping hand throughout his Whittier experience. As an immigrant and Dreamer, Castillo feels that to have someone support him is the best motivation to keep him going. 

Castillo recalls when Professor of English Wendy Furman-Adams told him, “We’re all rooting for you,” and how those five words gave him encouragement that the world was not against him. As he heads out into the world, such encouragement makes Castillo believe that anything is possible.

Photo courtesy of the LA Opera 

Photo courtesy of the LA Opera 

Photo courtesy of Whittier College

Photo courtesy of Whittier College