Sebastian Montoya (CS photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Sebastian Montoya (CS photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)

Participating in the fencing team at Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda taught Sebastian Montoya valuable lessons that he believes will help him in life.

“You have to adapt. Every opponent is different. You have to adapt and overcome different kinds of situations in a short period of time,” he said of the sport, in which athletes duel with foils, sabers or epees, with attacking lunges, defensive parries and counterattacking ripostes.

He noted that his grandfather, Manuel Sanmiguel had been a general in the Colombian army and at one time was a Pan-American champion fencer.

Montoya, who competed in fencing for two years at the school and was the team’s captain this year, said participating in the sport taught him the importance of “being able to analyze different challenges and tests, and being able to find appropriate solutions.”

Learning to adapt and face challenges has been part of the high school experience for Montoya, a member of the class of 2018 at Georgetown Preparatory School.  The native of Bogotá, Colombia, is the son of Andres and Gladys Montoya. He lived in his home country for the first 17 years of his life, until his mother got a job at the Embassy of Colombia to the United States, and the family moved to the Washington, D.C., area, where his older sister Guanita now attends American University.

Two years ago, he began studying at Georgetown Preparatory School, attending a new school, in a new country.

“When I came here, I didn’t know anybody. The community was so strong, so welcoming and supportive of me, and I’m very thankful for it,” he said. “…The faculty was great and very supportive. That made the transition very easy for me.”

Montoya also made many friends along the way, among his classmates, the fencing team, the robotics club – where he was elected president, and in the school’s International Relations Club, where students participated in the Model Organization of American States and Model United Nations, and analyzed the challenges faced by countries, like his home country of Colombia, which until a 2016 peace agreement had faced a longstanding internal armed conflict among government forces and guerrilla and paramilitary groups.

“Moving here, my horizons broadened,” he said. “I made a decision to open my eyes, not only to the United States, but to the rest of the world.”

Participating in the school’s robotics club cemented his interest in engineering, and this fall, he will attend Purdue University and study multidisciplinary engineering.

At Georgetown Prep, Montoya’s community service work included volunteering with a group that provides furniture to low-income families, and taking part in a program where he played sports with special needs children.

In his senior year, he played defensive back and wide receiver for the school’s football team, where he made more friends. In Latin America and most of the world, soccer is known as football, but he said he enjoyed playing the U.S. version of football, adding that he is a huge fan of Tom Brady.

“During that time, I had to become very disciplined to manage school, robotics, the International Relations Club, football and college essays,” he said.

Montoya maintained a high academic average at the all-boys Catholic high school sponsored by the Society of Jesus, and he was recognized as a National Hispanic Recognition Program scholar.

Reflecting on his experience at Georgetown Preparatory School, Montoya said, “I’ve grown a lot as a person. I’ve become more open and confident in myself.”

Along with his family, he attends St. Bartholomew Church in Bethesda, and he said a key teaching that he learned from his Jesuit education at Georgetown Preparatory School – “asking what more can we do for the greater glory of God” – has shaped his goal of one day returning to Colombia and helping modernize his home country with his engineering training.

Helping the people of his country is something that Montoya has learned firsthand from the example of his mother, who established a foundation in Colombia to support wounded military veterans, war widows and their families, helping them find jobs and providing them with support so they can rebuild their lives.

“My mother is my inspiration… She is my role model,” said Montoya, who has volunteered with the program, visiting hospitals and bringing Christmas presents to the veterans.

Montoya added, “Just getting to know this group of guys who sacrificed everything for their country, it inspires me to also help my country in whatever way I can.”