“I was born in the city of San Pedro Sula in Honduras. When I was three years old, I moved to Tegucigalpa, which is the capital city. I grew up with my grandma until I was three years old when my uncle and aunt— my mom’s sister and her husband— took me into their house along with my older brother. Since then, I’ve been living with them and their son, who is kind of like my younger brother.
My biological mom actually lived with my grandma, but she wasn’t capable of taking care of me and my older brother. When I was about 10, she got diagnosed with cancer. I got to take a look at the health system in Honduras and realized that it was really not good. A lot of people are there waiting for days sometimes and there are very few doctors. Growing up in a third world country, there were a lot of issues with corruption and poverty. I saw so many disparities that could be addressed or fixed.
There are people whose job is to pick up the trash. They live in impoverished communities and their kids sometimes help and don’t go to school. I was about 15 when my younger brother found this school that started to take those kids in and give them an education but was really, really poor. Given that we had a better educational background, my younger brother and I decided to serve as teachers at the school during our summers. A lot of kids were like me because their parents had died or they didn’t have a lot of resources. At the same time, I had a lot of privileges that they didn’t have, like a better education. Helping them, while acknowledging that they could have been me, was a very important point in my life.
Since we were kids, my mom always told us to get good grades so we could get a better education and more opportunities. I always knew that I wanted to get a good education somewhere else in order to be able to help my country in a better way.
When I went to Dartmouth, I knew I wanted to help other people and I actually put that in my application, but I didn’t know how, and I also didn’t know what to study. I really liked the biology field, but I also liked creativity. Engineering lets you express both of those. You can help people, but you can also find practical and creative ways to come up with solutions to problems. There’s some art to engineering. I realized I wanted to make medical devices like prosthetics, which drove me to get more than one degree in engineering.
Going to the King Scholar conferences and leadership weeks made me recognize that no matter what, there isn’t one way or one path to help other people.
Regardless of the path or major you end up choosing, there’s always a way to help.
I want to get a Ph.D. in medical devices or medical robotics, maybe even Bionics. After I get my Ph.D., I want to work in the industry and the R and D department, to understand what it takes to actually make devices. Twenty years from now, I want to leave the industry and create my own company or organization where I can sell affordable medical devices to others who cannot afford one. That way I can both help people who need medical aid, but can’t afford it.
It’s not just being in the United States, but being at Dartmouth and having the exposure to so many different ideas and access to so many different friends has made me more ambitious. It’s helped me realize that it’s possible to help people on a large scale.
A friend of mine and I recently decided to create a nonprofit organization, United International-First Year Scholars Society (UNI-FYSS), to help high school students from underrepresented backgrounds apply to institutions in the United States. I’m helping people and I know it’s not as big at the moment, but I would have never thought in high school that I would be starting an organization to help other students like me when I haven’t even finished college.
If I could go back in time I would tell myself to never stop dreaming because I had very big dreams that a lot of people didn’t believe in. Now that I’m at Dartmouth, I’ve seen my goals materialized and I’m able to see them more clearly.
Jonathan Bonilla Toledo is a King Scholar at Dartmouth College (‘21). He majors in Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering and is from Tegucigalpa, Honduras.