Fiesta’s advance guard is making its way around the city, priming the community for the party ahead. For Rey Feo and his consejo, that means a series of high energy pep rallies at local schools where students wearing paper crowns and wide grins take a pledge to pursue educational goals. Over the course of Fiesta, Rey Feo will visit around 70 schools in San Antonio.

The students of St. Luke Catholic School greeted Rey Feo LXVIII Darren Casey with all the cheers and fanfare of a celebrity, waving ribbons along the sidewalk where he entered. Members of the consejo entered the school gym ahead of him to get the students ready, leading them in “Viva Fiesta!” cheers.

Rey Feo LXVIII Darren Casey asks students at St. Luke Catholic School to share their dreams with him. Photo by Scott Ball.
Rey Feo LXVIII Darren Casey asks students at St. Luke Catholic School to share their dreams with him. Photo by Scott Ball.

Rey Feo entered to deafening cheers, and introduced their motto for the year – “Grit to be Great.”

Every Rey Feo visit includes certain elements: the recognition of the Rey and Reyna of the school (in this case a physical education coach and the librarian), photo ops with the children of consejo members, and the presentation of medals and gifts.

All of the informal ceremony builds the students’ enthusiasm for Fiesta. Some children were already wearing Fiesta medals and floral coronas in anticipation. The program is also designed to bolster school pride.

St. Luke alumnus and consejo member David Christian remembers when Rey Feo visited the school while he was a student, and the lasting impression it made. He told the students that they are part of a special place and that the friends and experiences here will stick with them.

“My best friends to this day are the friends I made at St. Lukes,” Christian said.

Rey Feo’s larger mission, however, is to underscore the importance of education, the larger mission of his organization.

“Education is the foundation of our success,” Rey Feo told the students.

The court of Rey Feo LXVIII Darren Casey sits quietly behind him as he speaks to the students of St. Luke Catholic School. Photo by Scott Ball.
The court of Rey Feo LXVIII Darren Casey sits quietly behind him as he speaks to the students of St. Luke Catholic School. Photo by Scott Ball.

While the “second king” of Fiesta has been around since 1947, he was invited to be part of the official Fiesta organization in 1980. In 1982 Rey Feo XXXII Logan Stewart founded the Rey Feo Consejo Educational Foundation, cementing the organization’s primary purpose.

Aspiring Rey Feos must win their reign by raising at least $225,000 for scholarships in a friendly competition against another candidate. The winner then becomes a year-round ambassador for the LULAC Rey Feo Scholarship Foundation.

The scholarship funds are distributed through renewable awards to approximately 150 high school seniors and college students as a $2,000 annual scholarship to be used toward books and tuition.

At St. Luke, Rey Feo encouraged the students to keep their eye on the college goal. As the first in his family to earn a college degree, Casey understands the importance of education, and is very committed to promoting higher education from day one.

“We can’t have a prospering, thriving, community unless we educate them, and it starts when they’re little,” Casey said, after the festivities.

The little ones were by far the most enthusiastic, swarming Rey Feo and his microphone when he asked, “What are your dreams?”

Answers ranged from teacher and firefighter to one kindergartener who said that she wanted to be a respiratory therapist. To the aspiring NBA players and singers in the crowd. Rey Feo advised them that college was the best place to hone their skills and be discovered.

While the middle school students were more reluctant to be silly or enthusiastic, a few brave souls admitted that they wanted to be doctors or marine biologists.

The most ambitious answer, given by an elementary school boy, was “I want to be in the Air Force…”

“That’s great!,” Rey Feo said.

“…and be an archeologist…” the boy continued.

“Oh wow!” Rey Feo said.

“…and then an inventor,” the boy said.

Rey Feo applauded the young Renaissance man, who returned to his seat with a grin. That grin, and the excitement as they talk about their futures, is what Casey loves most about the Rey Feo program.

“It’s in their eyes!,” he said.

Rey Feo told the kids that their dreams were their crowns, referencing the giant sparkling crown he wears as part of the regalia. He also reminded them that hard work and supportive friends were crucial to overcoming the “bad days.”

The consejo led the students in a “Grit to be Great” pledge to earn their Rey Feo wristbands, a more crowd-friendly alternative to the medals.

Students recited:

“I have a goal, and it’s my crown,

The path to my success.

I’ll study hard and stay on track and do my very best.

When times get tough, and I get tired,

Or I can’t concentrate,

I’ll shake it off and do my best

‘Cause I’ve got the grit to be great.”

In return, the students sang a blessing over Rey Feo, praying that he would have safety and health throughout the grueling schedule laid out over the coming month.

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

*Top image: Students approach Rey Feo LXVIII Darren Casey for a welcoming handshake. Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.