Mario Alemán is the class valedictorian at at Cross Keys High School in DeKalb County.

Latino Becomes Valedictorian at Metro Atlanta School

When Mario Alemán gives his graduation speech at Cross Keys High School, he will speak of dreams and goals. He will talk about determination and passion. He will remark on choice and responsibility. Above all, though, he will recall everything his mother did for him and the journey on which they embarked together, through the desert of Mexico, all the way to Laredo, when Alemán was just five years old.

Alemán, 17-years-old, was named valedictorian of his class, a well-deserved honor after earning perfect grades (4.2 GPA) his entire life.

He is the most recent Latino to be awarded this honor in the last few years at Cross Keys. He will take the stage on today and address the student body at his school, which comprises a large percentage of Hispanic in DeKalb County.

The road to get here has not been easy, and Alemán’s mother, Elizabeth Alemán, has been there every step of the way.

Alemán has been accepted to Emory University’s Computer Science program, an accomplishment that has brought happiness to his entire family.

“My younger brother started running through the house, and my mom was almost crying from joy when the acceptance letter arrived,” said Alemán.

There have been challenges along the way, however. Learning English, for example, has been one of Alemán’s most difficult obstacles to overcome. It represents a barrier that, at times, has made him feel different and foreign.

“English was always the hardest class. That’s where I have to work harder. From the beginning, I always felt like an immigrant. When we got here, we arrived in a mostly American community. There were only two Latino children at school, and I always felt isolated… different,” explained Alemán.

Things changed when the family moved to a new city, and Alemán’s mother became more involved with his studies. He attended Woodward Elementary and Sequoyah Middle School.

For Alemán, his friends, who all have similar backgrounds, have been a huge support in his life. “They’re always there to help me.”

Memories of his native Mexico are scarce, but the recollections Alemán does have bring a smile to his face.

“I have several memories of Mexico. The best one is walking to school, hand in hand with my grandfather, because my grandpa was the music teacher, and he would walk me to school. I would also help my mom at one of her stores,” said Alemán.

At the same time, Alemán also considers Georgia to be his home, a place that forms part of who he is.

“I’ve got my graduation robe ready,” he added. In the meantime, Alemán is packing up for college.

“I’m going to move there, because it’s mandatory for the first two years. Right now, my mom doesn’t want to let me go, but I feel like she has prepared me to do well by myself. So, everything will turn out alright,” he said, laughing.

In the end, Alemán feels very grateful to a special person in his life.

“Mom: thank you so much for everything you have done. All of the sacrifices were not in vain, and I want to thank you for that,” said Alemán.

Since sixth grade, Alemán has participated in the Latino Youth Leadership Academy, a program offered through the Latin American Association.

The initiative provides middle school and high school students with an after-school program that teaches them skills needed to succeed in school and college. It includes leadership development; cultural and physical activities; test preparation and academic support, among other components. Parental involvement is an essential aspect of the program as well.

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