Profile of a graduate: Isai Perez

Under normal circumstances, Isai Perez’s achievements would be considered laudable. This year, he graduated a valedictorian from Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified School District with a 4.22 GPA as well as the State Seal of Biliteracy.

Perez, like all students, also dealt with the plethora of challenges brought about by the pandemic. However, at 15 years old, he also persevered through something no child his age should have to. On a Sunday afternoon in March 2021, Perez’s father, Lorenzo, was murdered while selling food from his food cart in Southeast Fresno.

Left with his mom and three younger siblings, Perez has said that support from his mom, school counselors and teachers has helped him to remain resilient, along with the memories he has of the time he had with his dad.

“The relationship I had with my father was kind of like any other father and son relationship except I was also able to connect with him as a friend. Whenever I needed anything, he made sure he made himself present and made sure I knew I could count on him,” Perez said. “He was always joyful and caring, which made me feel secure and happy. My dad was an exemplary father, his dedication to continue moving forward looking for any way possible to ensure a good future for us fueled my motivation to give him the life he deserved. I feel like the only way I’ve been able to persevere is because of the memories I still hold dear. I replay them in my head over and over until I am able to pick myself up and continue moving forward just like he did.”

This fall, Perez said he will attend California State University, Fresno, where he will study education to become a teacher. Currently working as an elementary teacher’s assistant over the summer, Perez said teaching wasn’t always his plan.

“This is a newer goal for me. Back when I was younger, I actually wanted to be an engineer. I want to become a teacher because I hope to create a positive impact in a kid’s life so they can strive for what’s best for them,” he explained. “A few things I would like to accomplish as a teacher would be to help direct a student to the right path and ensure they have a good future. I want to create a safe environment for students to not only learn, but to enjoy learning. I want to help them create goals they can work for so they can strive for a good future. I want to help shape up good people for this world.”

Perez — a fan of Marvel movies, anime and volleyball, and an avid collector of Funko Pops — said he hopes to remain in his community once he earns his credential.

Looking ahead, he offers a piece of advice he aims to live by when challenges arise that may seem insurmountable.

“Even if you fail today, it’s okay — today’s failure is tomorrow’s goal and the next day’s success. No matter what happens, as long as you have yourself, you can do anything you set your mind to,” Perez said. “Everyone has the power to do what’s right for themselves and for this world, you just have to decide when to start. Be the best version of yourself.”