Miguel Zendejas has his future mapped out ... and it doesn’t include working summers in the Salinas Valley fields picking cilantro and other vegetables 10 hours a day, six days a week.
The back-breaking work allowed him to pay his way through Fresno City College.
The 21-year-old Zendejas, the youngest of three children, said field work was necessary for him to continue his education.
“Since my senior year (in high school), I had to start paying for my own education,” said Zendejas, who plans to transfer to UCLA this fall and study to become a history teacher.
Zendejas, the only member of his family who was born in the United States, was selected as recipient of the Tony Cantú President’s Medallion by college president Carole Goldsmith at a May 11 ceremony.
That means when FCC holds its graduation ceremony Friday night (May 19) at Selland Arena, Zendejas will be the No. 1 graduate.
No force has driven me more than my family, and I will succeed to show them that their sacrifices are worthwhile.
Miguel Zendejas, Tony Cantú President’s Medallion recipient
That speaks volumes about Zendejas, who briefly dropped out of Fresno City College last year before family and friends convinced him to return to school or risk “wasting my brain.”
“This is a remarkable young man who took college physics for ‘fun’ (his only B by the way), and he is an elegant and eloquent writer,” said Dr. Margaret Mericle, dean of the Social Sciences Division. “But he wants to teach history to impact the lives of the underprivileged? Come on!”
Mericle selected Zendejas as her division’s medallion recipient. Mericle said a professor Kathie Crawford told her that Zendejas was one of the “three brightest students” she has taught at FCC.
Mericle calculated that Zendejas is one of the three brightest students of 6,300 that Crawford has taught in 18 years.
“So let’s say he is extremely bright,” she added. “So I’m willing to give his proposition – that teaching history can change the world – some consideration.”
Zendejas is driven to history because of the undocumented status of his family. A sister, 25, and brother, 29 – who were born in Tangancicuaro, Michoacán, México – have earned college degrees in criminology and history, respectively.
However, they can’t do much with those degrees with with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status.
“My brother can’t teach without being a legal citizen,” said Zendejas. His sister helps students in an after-school program.
Zendejas wants to teach history “to impact the lives of the underprivileged.”
He lives in fear that his siblings and parents, despite being law-abiding, can be deported at any moment.
“No force has driven me more than my family, and I will succeed to show them that their sacrifices are worthwhile,” said Zendejas.
He has a 3.96 GPA.
The other dean medallion recipients:
▪ Marissa Sánchez, Humanities Division: The youngest of six children, Sánchez, has balanced studying while being a single mother raising three children. Her parents spoke only Spanish and worked in the fields. Sánchez would often be called upon to interpret for her parents.
“I witnessed my parents face many problems, but through it all their work ethic was exceptional,” said Sánchez, who wants to become a lawyer. She did take a 10-year break from school.
Her long-term goal is become an appellate judge.
▪ Adrián Jiméez, Business Division: Jiménez, who has a 4.0 GPA, plans to transfer to Fresno State and become a programmer. He will be the first in his family to earn a college degree.
“When I was small, my father would work in the fields, and my mother worked as a housekeeper for many years,” he said. “Although my parents were grateful for having work, and we always had food on the table, they would remind my sister and I to do well in school so that we might not work at something as strenuous as they did.”
He called programming “an art. What you can do is limited only by your imagination and your willingness to learn how to do things no one else has ever done before.”
▪ Alycia Pineda, Allied Health, Education and Athletic Division: Pineda graduated from Central High School in 2010, but didn’t start at FCC until two years later because she had to work to pay for college. She relied on bus transportation, which meant that if the bus ran late, she would miss a class.
She took time off again in 2013 to help her history with her child. Pineda returned to college, only to drop out again when her boyfriend needed help. She has a 3.89 GPA.
She decided to become a recreation major to help children who need a positive outlet and direction.
▪ Keisha Oliver, Applied Technology Division: Oliver, who has a 4.0 GPA, worked almost full-time while attending FCC and taking care of an autistic stepson and her elderly parents. Oliver found a passion in computer-aided drafting and design.
She wants to work in an engineering firm.
▪ Christopher Forestiere, Counseling and Guidance Division: He has a 4.0 GPA and graduates with associate degrees in history and political science. The Eagle Scout also worked at his family’s Forestiere Underground Gardens. He will attend Long Beach State.