Emily Salazar, the girl who was too shy to ask for ketchup at McDonald’s, spoke at a climate change conference in Washington, D.C. this week before a crowd of more than 1,400.
“When I was younger and I’d go to McDonald’s or some place like that with my parents, I wouldn’t order ketchup on my own. I was that timid. I wouldn’t speak up.”
The daughter of her late Mexican father who suggested it was not proper to talk about religion and politics is heavily into the former, and would like to become an elected official in the near future.
“I disagree. I think it’s important to have those conversations.”
The daughter of a Guatemalan housekeeper who had no more than a third-grade education graduated last week as the No. 1 student in the Roosevelt High School class of 2019, 10 days after earning a degree from Fresno City College.
“I don’t think even she realizes how much she does. She didn’t have to teach me calculus, or guide me a certain way. She guided me morally, with advice and with support.”
Salazar, the 18-year-old who learned American Sign Language so that she could communicate with her parents who were losing their hearing, will head to Stanford on Sept. 14 on a full-ride scholarship. She will major in psychology and study Arabic as a pre-law student.
Martín Mares, director of the Ivy League Project, calls her a “rock star.”
Fresno Realtor Elaine Collett, who has known Emily from the day she was born, is a former educator who strongly believes it takes a village to raise a child. Collett has helped Salazar with college applications, essays and forms.
Salazar calls Collett her “bonus mom.”
Salazar credits the Ivy League Project for changing how she navigates social interactions.
She has spoken before hundreds of fellow students about the Ivy League Project. “Before I knew it, I was just doing it,” she said about speaking.
Salazar’s story, however, is more than just her 4.32 grade point average at Roosevelt, playing the vihuela with the school mariachi or dancing her sophomore and junior years with the Roosevelt School of the Arts’ folkloric dance program.
It is more than her participation with the Roger Rocka Junior Company or her two years volunteering with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
It is about her drive and determination.
“I really like this young lady because she reminds me of a female Rocky,” said Mares, who has seen dozens and dozens of Ivy League Project students from the San Joaquín Valley go on to great successes. “She is poor and first generation, but she is full of ganas (desire).”
Salazar is also the first Roosevelt student accepted to Stanford in at least 30 years, according to Mares.
Salazar began high school at Bullard, but switched to Roosevelt for her sophomore year.
“I wanted to connect culturally with my Latino culture,” said Salazar. “Here, I could go all day speaking Spanish. Being around students of my own ethnicity was really important growing up and forming my own self identity.”
The Ivy League project, she said, “taught me to see myself as an adult and that I have a valid voice in the conversation.”
“For me, when I was young, you learned a kid doesn’t speak unless you’re spoken to,” said Salazar. “That was a habit of mine that was hard to break.”
Listening to Ivy League presenters who were Latinos and had similar backgrounds was important. Latinos make up 82 percent of Roosevelt’s enrollment, and 53.3 percent at Bullard.
“My internal psyche was telling me that I could do it,” said Salazar, who served as president of the American Sign Language Club at Fresno City College.
Salazar is known for thinking of others. For example, when she paid $125 to take an SAT preparation seminar in Clovis she thought about her fellow classmates who didn’t have the same opportunity.
“There’s nothing like this at Roosevelt,” Salazar told Collett.
Salazar launched an SAT prep course for Roosevelt students on her own, eventually helping 50 students by running off copies of the material.
“I would go around classes and make presentations about how important the SAT is, and my own experience,” said Salazar. “I think that alone was a good thing for the students to see.”
Salazar hopes to come back to Roosevelt and assist with SAT preparation workshops.
At Fresno City, Salazar spent time with students who were her parents’ age.
“That was really neat being able to grow my way of thinking,” she said. “I became a lot more independent than I think a lot of high school students are, just work ethic-wise, having the structure of a college level class and then seeing the high school level class and re-evaluate and adapt.”
Salazar, who works most days and weekends for Collett, believes students can thrive if they count on a wide circle of people for guidance.
“It takes a village,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without everybody.”