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Leading the band, on field and off

Senior drum major hopes others will follow his steps in finding their life’s purpose

Godwin Heights — Carlos Soto-Castillo’s interest in the saxophone started with a YouTube video.

“The music of the instrument sounded really fascinating to me,” said the Godwin Heights senior. “When I was a seventh- (and) eighth-grader, I wanted to work really hard on the clarinet so I would be able to play the saxophone for marching band.”

Carlos played the saxophone for Godwin’s marching band for about a year. For the past three seasons, you would have found him in front of the marching band as its drum major. 

“I feel like a lot of kids have been inspired by me, by how much I have done for this program,” he said, adding that members from other bands would recognize him as Godwin’s drum major. “It was cool for the underclassmen to see my success and then they would want to be like me or they would want to be as successful as me when they grow up.”

Carlos Soto-Castillo leads the band during a rehearsal (courtesy)

Going Above and Beyond

Asked to think about a student leader from his school, the first person Principal Chad Conklin named was Carlos. His positive impact on the school led Carlos to be recognized during WOOD TV’s Football Frenzy week at the school.

“He is such an incredibly charismatic student,” said Tonia Sorokin, a high school science teacher. “Not only is he an amazing student academically, he goes over and above anything that is required of him here at Godwin.”

His ability to understand concepts and his willingness to help others has made him a leader in the classroom, Sorokin said, adding “I can’t wait to see the impact he makes on this world.”

Finding the Positives

While Carlos started his Godwin experience in preschool, it was middle school when he began to leave his mark. In 2018, he was one of a few eighth-graders invited to participate in the marching band. That was the year the band took the state championship at the Michigan Competing Band Association’s Flight V. 

In 2019, he entered Godwin as a freshman. The marching band was able to capture second place, but the rest of Carlos’ freshman year was shut down due to COVID. However, Carlos saw the positives of the situation: His parents encouraged him during online learning and, when he returned to school in the fall, emphasized the opportunity to build better relationships with his peers. 

“I feel like every year was pretty good,” Carlos said. “Every year was different. Every year was the same people but a different vibe. Everybody kept maturing over the years and knowing what they wanted to do after graduating.

“So it was really cool to get to grow with these students and friends of mine in class and see them improve and see myself improve and become a musician and become a good student.”

Despite the challenges of COVID, Carlos participated in a number of activities. He tried track and baseball. He had played soccer since he was 9, and was on the school’s varsity team until his junior year “because I wanted to focus more on my marching band. I also was working and I couldn’t manage three things at the same time.” 

In his junior year, he was elected class president and helped design prom. Through National Honor Society, Carlos has volunteered to pick up recycling for the PaperGator, worked the district’s Feeding America food trucks, assisted teachers, and helped the technology team unpack new Chromebooks. Carlos was selected as the Junior Honor Guard for the 2022 graduation ceremony. Carlos also has played alto and tenor saxophone for the school’s concert band.

Take Advantage of Opportunities

Carlos credits his family for his drive for success. 

“My family pushes me to be as great as I can. I don’t really think about being better than others, I just try to build myself up. Build Carlos better, meaning being a better version of myself.” 

Because his dad works in construction, he quickly discovered it as a potential career. Carlos plans to head into construction management by first attending Grand Rapids Community College and then on to Ferris State University.

“It was always the plan when I came to high school, to go into some type of construction,” he said. “I didn’t know what type of career in construction but I knew it was going to have to be something hands-on.”

As he wraps up his high school career, he does have advice for current and future Godwin high school students: be active and try to put yourself out there. 

“Imagine coming to school and you kind of just come here eight hours just to go to class each hour and you just go home and you really don’t have anything else to do during your free time,” he said. “So you might as well branch out and see what fits you.”

There are lots of opportunities to explore at Godwin such as fine arts, sports and other activities, he noted.

“Don’t stay in your little small group from middle school,” he said. “High school is a whole different thing. You can’t be the same person you were in middle school. You have to be your own person. Make sure you know who you are as a person, what you do, and what your purpose is in life.”

Carlos Soto-Castillo leads the band encouraged by director Roger Wagner (courtesy)
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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio


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