Santos spoke glowingly of the work ethic, courage and commitment of the teenagers, who sat proudly in full dress uniform with their parents and families. He presented awards and introduced students who spoke on behalf of the unit.
But just 24 days later, Santos was gone, killed in a tragic local motorcycle accident that left his students, their families and the PLHS staff deeply saddened. He was 51 years old.
Santos was born Sept. 30, 1969, in Flushing, N.Y. He was a career Marine Corps officer with distinguished service in the U.S. and abroad. He retired from the Marines in 2013 and became an inspiration to his students, teaching not only strong leadership skills but life skills as well.
"When I heard of his passing I was in shock," said outgoing student Commanding Officer John Burrell, 18, who will enter Purdue University. "It was way too soon. I've lost family members and others I love but never anyone I've respected as much."
"He led by example," Burrell added, "How to be a better leader, a better person. He was a mentor and a friend, giving us nicknames and making it fun. He had a ‘Just say yes’ attitude, totally open to exploring new things and keeping it fresh."
"His care for students, love for his work and dedication to our community will forever be remembered," wrote PLHS Principal Kelly Lowry in an open letter. "This news may bring a variety of feelings in our students and staff, including sadness or confusion," Lowry wrote, "as we have lost an important member of our community.
Counseling for students and staff, both in person and via Zoom, was made available after the incident.
A devoted father to his four children, Santos also loved his dogs, cooking and the Dallas Cowboys. Described as "a kid at heart," he was always ready for a family outing or adventure, making others laugh with his fast wit.
Santos is is also survived by three sisters. Services were held at Miramar National Cemetery earlier this week.