Dell Scholars and best friends Verónica Leal and Jennifer Becerra not only graduated together from high school this year, but both are heading to Southern California to start their new journey at UCLA later this year as college roommates.
Leal and Becerra graduated as valedictorians from Sunnyside High School during a commencement ceremony on June 6 at the Save Mart Center.
Both Leal and Becerra are recipients of a $20,000 Dell scholarship – worth $5,000 per semester for four years and comes with a laptop, printer, academic and technical support. Both also received other local scholarships that would contribute to their total scholarships funds to pursue their higher education dream.
Becoming a high school counselor
Leal, 18, was born and raised in Fresno and is a first-generation college student.
Both of her parents are from Jalisco, México and she is the youngest child born to Isidro Leal, 59 and Luz Elena Leal, 55.
Thanks to the AVID program, Leal learned about the Dell Scholars program and decided to apply, taking a chance that would change her life completely.
When Leal got word that she was selected for the prestigious scholarship, Leal, saw that all her hard work paid off and her dreams of higher education were closer to becoming a reality.
Even though her parents never went to college and speak limited English, they supported Leal in her goals of obtaining a higher education. However, they didn’t know what college is about or what their daughter needed to do during her high school career to pursue that path.
At first, her parents were very hesitant that Leal was going away from college when she was admitted to her first college choice.
Leal said after her father visited UCLA campus with her, they changed their mind.
She applied to eight colleges in California – four in the UC system and four in the CSU system.
Leal wants to “make my parents proud.”
She thanked her parents for everything and their “hard work,” for coming to this county to have a better life for their kids.
Leal, who graduated with a 4.28 grade point average, will major in anthropology. She wants to study cultures and societies and how both shape humans beings.
Her goal is to become a high school counselor and guide students, like herself, who have faced adversity.
One adversity Leal had to overcome was being bullied as a child because of the way she looked and dressed. That led her to join an anti-bullying club in high school.
Leal recalls being making fun of because of her weight and her not having nice clothes to wear to school because her family couldn’t afford them.
Leal was very active and involved during her four years of high school in activities such as swimming and water polo for three years as well as leadership for four years including being class president and student recognition commissioner.
Working in the healthcare field
Becerra, who was also born and raised in Fresno, is the oldest of four children born to Sandra Martinez, 40 ,and Manuel Becerra, 42, both of México. Her parents immigrated to the United States more than 20 years ago.
Becerra, 18, is the first in her family to go to college.
As a young child, Becerra said her parents were having a hard time making ends meet in the U.S., so she was sent to live with her dad’s sister in México for a little more than three years.
Becerra, then 2 years old, didn’t understand. She wondered if her parents didn’t want her.
When she returned, she had to learn English as a second language, catching up to her peers and later mastering it.
Becerra was also part of the UCSF Fresno Doctors Academy program during her four years in high school at Sunnyside.
She said taking part of the program provided her with “amazing opportunities” during her time in the program including having the support to maintain a 4.0 GPA, take AP classes as well as being able to job-shadow multiple surgeons in Fresno.
Her dream of becoming a doctor started as a young child going to doctor’s appointments with her mother. She remembers the doctors being nice to her.
She recalls when her grandparents would get sick she would pretend she was a doctor and would cure them.
Becerra, who will be major in human biology, wants to become a trauma surgeon and would love to return back to Valley. She hopes to go to UCSF for Medical School. Becerra also plans to major in Chicano Studies.
Becerra speaks three languages – English, Spanish and Portuguese – hopes to “break language barriers here in the community” as a doctor working in the Valley.
Becerra said applying for the Dell Scholars program was not an easy process.
“It’s a long application,” said Becerra, adding that she wrote about 20 essays for the applications.
She recalls that when she was on her 10th essay, the computer crashed and she had to start the application process all over again.
Becerra applied to 12 colleges – four UC campus, four CSU campus, three private colleges and one community college.
Becerra was also involved in water polo for four years as well as California Scholarship Federation, among many other activities.