When Connor Cerezo-Allen was young, he would take apart and study the electronics in his house and put them back together again. 

This year, Cerezo-Allen studied engineering and mathematics as a senior in the class of 2019 at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. He plans to study mechanical engineering with a focus on robotics in college. He is the son of Carola Cerezo and Ralph Allen, and has a half-sister Ashley Allen. The family attends the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington, D.C. 

“It comes from this curiosity I have with how the world works,” Cerezo-Allen said regarding his interest in engineering and math. 

But deconstructing and repairing household electronics was not the only thing Cerezo-Allen did when he was young -- he took his first mission trip to Nicaragua when he was nine years old. 

“That experience truly changed me,” Cerezo-Allen said. “That first one was super impactful because it showed to me what other people live like. I know this sounds corny, but it showed me that I should be so grateful for what I have.” 

Since then, Cerezo-Allen has been on more service trips than he can recall -- somewhere from six to nine trips, he believes. 

“At this point, I’ve been doing it so long I don’t remember not doing it,” he said. He has also visited El Salvador with his parish and other Central American countries, as well as West Virginia for a service trip with DeMatha.

But after the first few trips, Cerezo-Allen said, he began to lose the powerful feeling he experienced initially. 

“As I did more and more service trips, I didn’t get that impact as much,” he said. “I considered that a crisis. I’ve lost that first impact of seeing (people in need) face to face, but I came to realize I’m still doing something good. I’m still helping people.” 

Cerezo-Allen began to see this enduring, non-gratifying service as a good in itself. 

“Over time I got this philosophy about service that it should not be done for recognition, because then it is done for the good of yourself, not done for the good of others,” he said. 

In order to combat this, Cerezo-Allen would only report the required number of service hours needed for school. “I wouldn’t record more than necessary,” he said. 

Despite this, he was nominated for a number of service awards, including two Trinitarian Service Awards at DeMatha and the Pax Christi 2018 Peacemakers of the Year Award. At first, Cerezo-Allen was reluctant to accept these awards, but after talking with counselors and his parents, he decided to accept out of respect and “to be an example for others.” 

“Service has helped my faith and allowed me to become a better person in general,” he said. 

Cerezo-Allen said he would encourage students entering DeMatha next year to join many different clubs to find one they truly value. Along with robotics, Cerezo-Allen participates in crew and the music program, where he is a percussionist. His favorite classes are robotics and theology, and he is grateful for the sense of community and the student-teacher relationships at DeMatha. 

“Probably the greatest impact would be the theology class, because in any other school I wouldn’t have that,” he said. “That is the greatest impact of Catholic education.” 

And, like his service work, that Catholic education has become an integral part of Cerezo-Allen’s life. 

“I wouldn't know what life is like without it,” he said.