Outstanding graduate: Juan Cardenas, John C. Fremont High School

Posted by ELLEN MATSUMOTO MORGAN on 6/3/2019 1:20:00 PM

Headed to University of California, Berkeley and Paying It Forward


Juan Cardenas  Juan Cardenas listened as his older sister told him about her experiences as a student attending University of California at Berkeley, where she is a sophomore. The stories encouraged him, as did the thought of choosing a school known for its prestige.

“It’s such an amazing school and one of the top in the world,” he thought, but had no intentions of attending until she was accepted.

 “That really intrigued me.”

Given she’s one of his biggest influences, Juan, who graduates next month as valedictorian from John C. Fremont High School in Los Angeles, was resolved to also attend Berkeley. A strong student, he became even stronger. He took advanced science and math courses, and involved himself in more activities, like school government and the National Honor Society, to further burnish his academic credentials.

Though he applied to other in-state schools, like UC Irvine, UC Riverside and UCLA, nothing motivated him more than Berkeley, which is often cited as the nation’s top public university.

Juan plans to major in engineering at Berkeley. He said he hopes to complete internships, study abroad and find a top employer before finishing his studies there. His academic foundation was built at Fremont High. He describes Fremont as a “melting pot” of cultures and a second home. Typically, he stays at school well-beyond dismissal, participating in student leadership meetings, and finishing homework until about 5 p.m. “Fremont has been an amazing school, a second home,” he said.

At home, he says, there is little for him to do but to help his youngest sister with her studies, which he does. His mother works an overnight shift, and leaves about the time he arrives home from school. He has access to neither cable television nor Internet spending his nights quietly at home.

His father serves as his greatest motivator, whom he visits whenever the family can scrounge up enough money for a rental car. Currently serving a prison sentence about two hours away, Juan says his father’s pride in him drives him to excel in the classroom. “He tells me he’s proud of me, and can’t wait to see me having a degree.” And he determined to do just that.

Juan also plans to spend his career giving back to generations of younger children in his South Los Angeles neighborhood. After finishing college, he plans to start a mentoring program that inspires children to pursue future careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM. He wants to provide them with afterschool tutoring and to find internships.

In other words, paying forward what he learned over his four years at Fremont is what he has in mind. “The teachers here are welcoming, know their subjects, and communicate with students to attract their attention,” he said. “That makes learning easier for students, and they offer afterschool tutoring, if you don’t understand the material.”