What has kept Leonard Serrato Jr. inspired throughout his time at Fresno State is the memory of his mother, Victoria Serrato, and the daily group text messages from his sister and father.
Serrato, 34, receives his master’s degree in counseling Saturday (May 19) at Fresno State’s 107th commencement ceremony at the Save Mart Center.
He’ll celebrate every step in the graduates’ march because Serrato battled dyslexia and the death of his mother last December. Yet, he leaves the university with a 4.0 grade point average.
A friend’s death in 2013 from an alcohol-related incident at a fraternity further challenged him enough to empower others on issues like hazing. He rewrote the New Member Education Program to include his research on hazing.
The 2002 graduate and football player of Los Baños High School credits his success in college to his family, older sister Kimberley Quiroz, and his father, Leonard Serrato Sr. Prior to Victoria’s death last December at age 59.
Leonard often helped his mother during her 20 years (10 of them as an employee) at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Los Baños.
After Victoria’s passing, he was called upon to take over many of the church responsibilities.
“I really found that calling; my mother was the director of religious education. It was in the middle of a school year, I took over 30 teachers,” said Leonard, also a former football player at Modesto Junior College prior to enrolling at Fresno State.
“I was babied just from everybody; I was spoiled rotten. I accept it. I did get away with a lot.”
As a child, he was often sent to pay bills with a check and the bill itself pinned to his shirt. He often rode his bicycle to go pay the family’s power bill.
“She would pin the bills and money, then they would pin the receipt on me,” said Leonard, adding that a mother-and-son bond is unique.
“I even remember the day before her death. The night before, it was perfect. I was supposed to go out and hang out with my friends, I called my friends and told them I couldn’t go,” he remembers.
Instead, he watched ‘Golden Girls’ on television with his mother.
His father, 63, was born in Michoacán, México. His mother was from Wapato, Washington. Leonard was born in Los Ángeles.
“My dad came from México in the 1970s with about a fourth-grade education. It (education) was never a priority in the house. She came from a single parent household, the baby and very defiant. She ran away from my grandma and in L.A.,” said Leonard.
“My sister; my parents, they never put any limits on me. They were always very supportive and provided all the resources. If I told them, I wanted to be an astronaut; no limitations.”
The family continues to rally each other, and, now in his mother’s spirit, Leonard looks forward to the daily messages.
“My dad said he wanted a better life, and he wanted us to have a better life than he did,” said Leonard. “He had a farm (in México), but then he had to drop out and work because he had to.”
Leonard was first diagnosed with dyslexia in the third grade.
“I was in a special education class for 1½ hours a day learning how to read and write. No one really actually caught on for a while, but there was one third grade teacher,” he said.
He connected with the very same teacher through social media.
“I said, ‘thank you.’ I told her I did not like her for a very long time, but now, as an adult, I wanted to thank her for a better quality of life. I remember we made a quilt, and she still had that, she actually had that quilt with a picture of me at about 8 (years old).”
He’ll have the opportunity to thank her in person, because her oldest son is graduating with a bachelor’s degree on Saturday.
Leonard has already had one offer to counsel college students, but turned it down. He’s currently on the job hunt in the hope of landing that perfect opportunity.
“I want an educational doctorate, and organizational leadership, I would love to finish up at Fresno State,” he said.