Juan Chaides: Artistic, advocate, admirable

With compassion, Juan Chaides inspires and leads change


Matt Petres

CARING FOR COMMUNITIES: Throughout U-High, senior Juan Chaides provides comfort and support to those around him. Not only does Juan work to give Latino students more visibility as co-president of Latinos Unidos, but he also acts as stage manager for theater productions, coordinating the many moving parts.

Amy Ren, Assistant Editor

Thunderous applause greeted Juan Chaides once, twice, three times as he was presented with awards in June 2022. Students and faculty cheered as he was recognized for his many contributions to the U-High community.

From leading Latinos Unidos as co-president to coordinating theater productions as stage manager, Juan, now a senior, dedicates himself to caring for and supporting others. Last year, Juan received the Citizenship Award, David Scheunemann Award and Betty Debs Sobel Award.

Juan pushed for greater visibility for the Latino community through his work in Latinos Unidos and on the wellness survey, which he strived to make more relevant to and representative of the student body. Juan was born on Chicago’s West Side, has several friends on the South Side and a deep connection to both areas, which have many Latino communities.

“A lot of people fail to recognize how surrounded Hyde Park is with Latinos, and how little representation the faculty and admissions really bring to this community,” Juan said. “I’ve always said, like as a joke but it’s very real, that I can count the amount of Latinos that are in our grade on my hands, which is very sad but still is something that I wished to accentuate more because we are a community that exists at Lab and should be represented as such.”

He is motivated by the “Lab bubble,” where people are isolated from certain communities and experiences. He wants the school community to truly be more aware of itself and also discuss their differences constructively and insightfully.

“Being unaware, and being purposely unaware of things, gets me into a space where I need to help them get the full picture,” Juan said. “A lot of Lab students don’t see that full picture, because of the Lab experience of someone that is a ‘lifer’ versus someone that came just a couple of years ago, as well as these differences socio-economically, racially, gender-wise and sexuality-wise.”

Being able to cultivate community is important to Juan, since he says many Latinos at Lab don’t feel like they belong to the broader community, like he once did. At November’s Day of the Dead celebration, Juan thought Latinos finally felt seen and appreciated at Lab.

“Everyone, from all across all divisions at Lab — I was seeing students, parents and the teachers bringing their kids and being like, ‘This is so cool’ and… ‘I really appreciate this; my kids don’t really get to see this much representation at Lab, and having Latinos do this for the community was super cool,’” Juan said. “Getting to see that is very heartwarming and is really why we do it.”

Juan leads Latinos Unidos with co-president Kariani Rojas, one of his close friends. They met in ninth grade, when they both transferred to U-High, and connected over mutual interests and similar backgrounds.

“We bonded through… all the stuff that we’ve been through together, especially since Lab isn’t really well known for exploring all the economic differences in students,” Kariani, a senior, said. “So we were really able to bond through our different struggles with not having something, not being able to get somewhere.”

Together, Juan and Kariani’s different personalities and visions strike a balance in the leadership of Latinos Unidos. 

“If you talk to Juan, you kind of notice it — how he carries himself with this responsibility he has, and he can always recognize what needs to be done. And he has this way of self-disciplining that he can just create a plan and actually stick to it,” Kariani said. “I’m more of the idealist, where I’m making all these different projects, and Juan can be like, ‘OK, but realistically, how are we getting this done?’”

The two also joined theater together in ninth grade, with Kariani acting and Juan as set crew.

While Juan, as stage manager, oversees a production with theater members reporting to him, Kariani said he remains friendly.

“There’s this calmness Juan usually carries with him that alleviates all that tension,” Kariani said, referencing the stress of putting together a production. “He’s very approachable and is very clear with all the expectations; he holds all of us accountable in a manner that doesn’t feel degrading.”

Although not onstage, Juan said he gets his creative outlet fulfilled while supporting others, since his role as stage manager is to make everything go smoothly.

Lucija Ambrosini, theater director, explained Juan coordinates and cues every element in a production — lights, actors and crew — and ensures all of them are on time and ready to go.

“He’s a very friendly, warm person, and he’s very together,” Ms. Ambrosini said. “It just has been really wonderful to see how much he stepped into all of his duties and responsibilities, and is following through in a very, very likable manner, just really showing a lot of heart in it, but also a lot of industry.”

Kariani said she doesn’t know how Juan juggles his many duties without experiencing burnout, and Juan said he doesn’t know either. He said his personality enables him to keep caring for others.

“Being able to see other people succeed, that is just really fulfilling to me, and seeing other people happier… is something that I like to see because I’m very empathetic,” Juan said. “Other people’s emotions do very much get at me very easily, so being able to see other people happy will make me happy.”