Overcoming a Rough Start, Salysia Perez Seizes Success

Overcoming a Rough Start, Salysia Perez Seizes Success

Growing up, Salysia Perez watched multiple family members " including her mother and the aunt who reared her up until her freshman year at Fresno's Hoover High School " succumb to substance abuse and addiction.

"I didn't want to be part of that cycle," she affirms.

Her individual determination has made her the first member of her family to graduate from high school, and she hasn't done it in half-measures. Reunited with her mother as a freshman, she went on to become a valedictorian at Hoover after taking AP classes and becoming a lifetime member of the California Scholastic Federation. She's set the example for her three teenage siblings, now on track to follow in her footsteps. And she has big plans for the future.

"I want to be a pediatrician, or possibly a gynecologist," Perez says. She was accepted at UC Davis and UC Merced and chose Merced after conversations with admissions officer Eunique Johnson, who told Perez she would fit perfectly at the new campus.

Perez looks forward to individual attention from professors, something she was worried she wouldn't find at larger universities. She's also excited to participate in intramural soccer, water polo or swimming especially since she decided to defer her passion for sports during high school to focus on academics.

Almost all of Perez's college expenses will be covered with federal financial aid. She also received a scholarship from the Hispanic Bill Gates Millennium Foundation. And she'll keep working at Marie Callendar's when she arrives in Merced, "just for my spending money," she says.

It will be hard for Perez's family to see her leave, even though Merced is only an hour from their home. "My brothers and my sister and I are very close," she says. "It's going to be hard to leave, but I'm thrilled that I can stay close to home and have the opportunity to excel. And at least I can visit on weekends!"

"I think coming to UC Merced is the greatest opportunity ever," she says. "What could be better than the chance to show my talents, give leadership and start traditions? Why wouldn't I take up this opportunity? I'm that kind of person."

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