John Santillanes graduated from Eastern New Mexico University in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science in Education. He has worked as a middle school teacher for 45 years and is looking forward to his retirement in May of 2024. Santillanes has a great passion for teaching, and Eastern allowed him to find that passion, which he carried throughout his teaching career. He never thought he would attend college and believed it was too difficult. However, when Santillanes started attending Eastern, he realized that when he applied himself to his studies, he could accomplish much more than he ever thought.
Santillanes is from Dora, New Mexico, and when he started elementary school, he struggled with the curriculum and had to be held back from the second grade. After Santillanes graduated from high school, he began struggling with health problems, and he couldn’t work. His dad recommended that John start taking classes during his downtime. Because of his past struggles, John did not think teaching was for him, even after graduating from ENMU. However, because of his experience, he enjoys making his classroom a safe space for other children who might be struggling.
He was patient and worked through the rough parts of becoming a new teacher. He discovered that he loved teaching, and encouraged students to come in and be themselves. In 1996, Mr. Santillanes won Teacher of the Year in New Mexico. Although Santillanes was unsure if teaching would be the right path, he takes pride in his work. He said the most rewarding part of his job is, "When former students remember me and say hi."
Outside of teaching he enjoys fishing, camping, gardening, and going to yard sales. Santillanes is looking forward to his retirement so he can travel and visit his grandchildren more often, he is also looking forward to coming down to ENMU for Homecoming and visiting with some of the lifelong friends he made while attending Eastern. ENMU gave him a place where he could learn to apply himself and encouraged the passion he has for teaching.