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Sunnyside High's Marco Suarez Refused to Let His Environment Define Him. Now He's Bound for UC Berkeley.
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By Nancy Price, Multimedia Journalist
Published 11 months ago on
May 31, 2023

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Even when he was just a little boy, Marco Suarez knew he wanted to be an engineer.

Maybe it had something to do with his fascination with his Xbox computer gaming system, or how his mind migrated to the certainty and purity of mathematics and science.

Suarez, now 18 and one of Sunnyside High School’s 73 valedictorians — he’s ranked No. 30 in a class of 670 grads — knows he’ll need to keep working hard and maintain his focus to achieve his dream of becoming a software engineer.

He wants to achieve his dream, not just for himself and his family, but also for his community, to demonstrate that children of immigrant parents, children who learned English as their second language, children who grew up surrounded by violence, by gangs, by blood, can carve their own paths to success.

To hear more of Marco’s story, head over to The GV Wire Podcast and listen to an extended interview here.

“I want to set an example for everyone else, set an example for my little siblings and set an example for my little cousins and just show that I can end the cycle of drugs, alcohol, and of not going to college or not completing high school. Or not going to prison,” Suarez says. “And I think I did do that. I think that I showed that there’s a different way, there’s a different pathway — especially in the Mexican community, we don’t have to join a gang. We don’t have to fall into that life of violence, life of drugs, life of crime.

“We can become more, we can be college graduates, we can be professionals in different types of fields, in the medical field, engineering field, in all those types of fields. And I think that I’m creating that pathway right now to show and exemplify in my community that it can be done.”

Leaving Home

Suarez is the winner of $7,800 in scholarships — so far. This fall he’s heading for UC Berkeley where he plans to major in computer science and possibly also in electrical engineering. He chose Berkeley over other universities because it will provide career-oriented connections to Silicon Valley. And he won’t be lonely for friends — two of his Sunnyside classmates are enrolling in Berkeley, and one will be his roommate this fall.

He will be lonely for family, however, and his impending move to the Bay Area for college already has younger sister Jasmin in tears and his mother Maricela disconsolate. Suarez will be the second member of his immediate family to attend college, but the first to leave his family’s east Fresno home to do it.

The sacrifice of separation will be worth it when the day comes that he has a good-paying job and can support his parents, Suarez says.

“I know for sure that, them coming here and giving me this opportunity, I can’t waste it. I have to give my parents a better life. I know for sure for their retirement, I want them to live a life of luxury, and I want to be able to do that for them, especially my mom. She was always there for me.”

Delfino Suarez and Maricela Suarez Burgos are among his many role models, and both faced hardships growing up in Mexico. Suarez’s family in Chiquilistlán in the state of Jalisco often didn’t have enough to eat, and he left home and middle school at age 14. Suarez Burgos’ family in Tanimireche in the state of Michoacan also was impoverished, and she was forced at a very young age by her extended family to leave elementary school and work in the fields, her son said.

“Just knowing that my dad was able to build a home and have all these kids and be able to clothe these kids and feed these kids, basically he did it from nothing, is just inspirational to me. My dad really showed me that hard work and determination is what gets you to places,” their son said.

“No matter how hard life gets, you can do it, there’s no point in giving up. Life may throw a lot of difficulties at you. And my dad for sure had many difficulties more than I had, right? My life is nothing compared to my dad. And I just know that, if he can do it, I can do it too.”

Overcoming Challenges

Suarez’s own challenges included being an English language learner who only spoke Spanish in kindergarten but was reclassified by the second grade as English proficient. Unlike some of the boys he attended elementary school with, Suarez stayed away from gangs and from trouble, and focused on his schoolwork.

But he got off track after violence flared at his home. His two older brothers had come home drunk and were being loud and obnoxious, and when Delfino Suarez told them to be quiet the argument escalated into a violent and bloody fight.

Suarez said he ran out to get police but later felt guilty that he hadn’t stuck around to defend his father, and that guilt tied him in emotional knots and depression as a Sunnyside freshman, killing his motivation to do well in his studies and succeed in school.

The COVID-19 pandemic might have been the best thing that could have happened late in his freshman year, because the isolation of learning from home gave him the opportunity to take stock and make a conscious decision as a sophomore to focus on his studies and keep working toward his goals.

Even if his freshman year wasn’t completely successful, Suarez is still graduating with a 4.23 grade-point average and some college credits from passing Advanced Placement classes. In his junior year, he took a whopping five AP courses: AP biology, computer science, calculus, composition and language, and U.S. history. Getting a passing grade on an AP test is tantamount to college credit which could shrink his time at Berkeley before graduating.

And, in his senior year, with a somewhat lighter class load, Suarez was able to participate in more clubs. He and a couple of friends in the Rocket Club recently test-fired rockets they had designed and built.

Scholarships Help

Suarez was gratified when he recently was awarded a $4,800 Fresno Unified scholarship — the largest this year for a Sunnyside student — plus a $2,000 scholarship from the East Fresno Rotary and a $1,000 scholarship from GrowthPoint Technologies, a new-ish Fresno-based startup founded by Sunnyside alums.

And when he strides across the stage at the SaveMart Center on June 6, there will be loud cheers from his parents and siblings, including older sister Cristina Jurado, who was the first in their family to go to college and now works as an accountant.

Suarez said Jurado helped him prepare the many applications for college admission, financial aid, and scholarships. He’s thankful for her help, and for the help provided by many others, including his role models who include his brother-in-law Clint Jurado, who Suarez says is “one of the main reasons why I’m not in violence or crime”; Mr. Chavez, his sixth-grade teacher at Jackson Elementary who came from Mexico to Fresno Pacific on a soccer scholarship and then became a teacher here; and his AP computer science teacher, Angela Vincent, whose inspiration “is one of the main reasons why I want to be a software engineer.”

But his main thanks are reserved for his parents, who made sure that his childhood was not one of privation, hunger, and hardship, and who encouraged him to succeed and reach for the stars. His diploma will bear the state’s Seal of Biliteracy, certifying his fluency in Spanish and English — and he’s thankful his parents gave him a good grounding in Spanish before he started learning English.

He plans to bring along photos of his family members for his dorm room as a reminder of what he’s working for.

“I think the hardest part of going to Berkeley is my family,” Suarez said. “I’m going to go to succeed. So I hope that at least that makes them proud and happy, and knowing that their son’s out there doing something great for himself.

“I’m sure that a lot of people think that when you leave the city or the place you grew up, is you just want to get away from them. But I think, for myself, I want to get away in order to help us. I think Berkeley would provide something more for me that Fresno can’t. And I think it just further would help me provide for my family.”

From left, Delfino, Maricela, Jasmin, and Marco Suarez in their home. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)

2023 Fresno County High School Graduations

Tap an item below to view the graduation schedule and locations for the schools in that district.

Caruthers Unified
School Date & Time Location
MARC High-Continuation May 31 – 2 p.m. Caruthers HS – Gymnasium (2580 W. Tahoe Ave., Caruthers)
Caruthers High June 2 – 7:30 p.m. Caruthers HS – Stadium (Anderson Field, 2580 W. Tahoe Ave., Caruthers)
Central Unified
School Date & Time Location
C.L.A.S.S. June 2 – 6:30 p.m. Central East High – Performing Arts Center (3535 N. Cornelia Ave., Fresno)
Pershing High June 5 – 6 p.m. Central East High – Performing Arts Center (3535 N. Cornelia Ave., Fresno)
Central Online Home School June 6 – 6 p.m. Central East High – Performing Arts Center (3535 N. Cornelia Ave., Fresno)
Central High June 7 – 8 p.m. Daren Koligian Stadium (4200 N. Grantland Ave., Fresno)
Central East High June 8 – 7 p.m. Save Mart Center (2650 E. Shaw Ave., Fresno)
Clovis Unified
School Date & Time Location
Clovis High May 25 – 7:30 p.m. Lamonica Stadium (Clovis High School, 1055 Fowler Ave., Clovis)
Clovis West High May 30 – 7:30 p.m. Veteran’s Memorial Stadium (1560 N. Minnewawa Ave., Clovis)
Buchanan High May 31 – 7:30 p.m. Veteran’s Memorial Stadium (1560 N. Minnewawa Ave., Clovis)
Clovis North High June 1 – 7:30 p.m. Veteran’s Memorial Stadium (1560 N. Minnewawa Ave., Clovis)
Clovis Adult Ed June 3 – 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Mercedes Edwards Theatre (902 5th St., Clovis)
Alternative Ed-Clovis Community Day/Gateway/Enterprise June 5 – 6 p.m.–8 p.m. Mercedes Edwards Theatre (902 5th St., Clovis)
Clovis Online June 6 – 7:30 p.m. Lamonica Stadium (Clovis High School, 1055 Fowler Ave., Clovis)
Clovis East High June 7 – 7:30 p.m. Lamonica Stadium (Clovis High School, 1055 Fowler Ave., Clovis)
Coalinga-Huron Unified
School Date & Time Location
Alternative Ed: Chesnut High & Cambridge High May 26 – 6 p.m. Coalinga Elem. – Outdoor Amphitheater (265 Cambridge Ave., Coalinga)
Coalinga High June 8 – 8 p.m. Coalinga High – Memorial Bowl (750 Van Ness Ave., Coalinga)
Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified
School Date & Time Location
El Puente High & Firebaugh-Las Deltas Adult School May 30 – 7 p.m. Firebaugh HS – Eagle Stadium (1976 Morris Kyle Drive, Firebaugh)
Firebaugh High June 1 – 7:30 p.m. Firebaugh HS – Eagle Stadium (1976 Morris Kyle Drive, Firebaugh)
Fowler Unified
School Date & Time Location
Fowler High and Fowler Academy Continuation June 8 – 7:30 p.m. Fowler HS – Nielson Stadium (701 E. Main, Fowler)
Fresno County Superintendent of Schools
School Date & Time Location
Career Technical Education Charter (CTEC) May 31 – 7:30 p.m. CTEC HS – Courtyard (1320 N. Mariposa St., Fresno)
Fresno Unified
School Date & Time Location
Design Science High May 22 – 6:30 p.m. Fresno City College – OAB (1101 E. University Ave., Fresno)
Fresno Adult H.S. & GED June 13 – 11 a.m. Saroyan Theater (730 M St., Fresno)
eLearn Academy June 1 – 1:30 p.m. Saroyan Theater (730 M St., Fresno)
DeWolf June 1 – 3:30 p.m. Saroyan Theater (730 M St., Fresno)
J.E. Young June 1 – 5:30 p.m. Saroyan Theater (730 M St., Fresno)
Cambridge June 1 – 7:30 p.m. Saroyan Theater (730 M St., Fresno)
Rata June 2 – 11 a.m. Rata Multi-Purpose (1371 W. Mesa, Fresno)
Fresno High June 5 – 4 p.m. Save Mart Center (2650 E. Shaw Ave., Fresno)
Patiño High June 5 – 7 p.m. Saroyan Theater (730 M St., Fresno)
Edison High June 5 – 8 p.m. Save Mart Center (2650 E. Shaw Ave., Fresno)
Adult Transition Program June 6 – 9 a.m. ATP Courtyard (3132 E. Fairmont Ave., Fresno)
Hoover High June 6 – 4 p.m. Save Mart Center (2650 E. Shaw Ave., Fresno)
McLane High June 6 – 7:30 p.m. McLane HS – Stadium (2727 N. Cedar Ave., Fresno)
Sunnyside High June 6 – 8 p.m. Save Mart Center (2650 E. Shaw Ave., Fresno)
Roosevelt High June 7 – 4 p.m. Save Mart Center (2650 E. Shaw Ave., Fresno)
Duncan Polytechnical High June 7 – 7:30 p.m. McLane HS – Stadium (2727 N. Cedar Ave., Fresno)
Bullard High June 7 – 8 p.m. Save Mart Center (2650 E. Shaw Ave., Fresno)
Golden Plains Unified
School Date & Time Location
Tranquillity High June 6 – 7 p.m. 6052 Juanche Ave., Tranquillity
Kerman Unified
School Date & Time Location
Enterprise High May 31 – 2 p.m. Kerman HS – Multipurpose Building (205 S. First St., Kerman)
Kerman High June 1 – 6:30 p.m. Kerman High – Stadium (205 S. First St., Kerman)
Kings Canyon Unified
School Date & Time Location
Reedley High May 30 – 8 p.m. Reedley HS – Football Stadium (740 W. North Ave., Reedley)
Orange Cove High May 31 – 8 p.m. Orange Cove HS – Football Stadium (1700 Anchor, Orange Cove)
Adult School/Kings Canyon High
Continuation/Mountain View School
June 4 – 8 p.m. Reedley HS – Football Stadium (740 W. North Ave., Reedley)
Kingsburg Joint Union
School Date & Time Location
Kingsburg Alternative Education Center – OASIS May 30 – 7 p.m. Kingsburg HS – Large New Gym (1900 18th St., Kingsburg)
Kingsburg High June 1 – 8 p.m. Kingsburg HS – Football Stadium (1900 18th St., Kingsburg)
Laton Unified
School Date & Time Location
Laton High June 9 – 8 p.m. Laton HS – Football Stadium (6449 De Woody St., Laton)
Mendota Unified
School Date & Time Location
Mendota High June 1 – 7:30 p.m. Mendota High – Aztec Stadium (1282 Belmont Ave., Mendota)
Parlier Unified
School Date & Time Location
San Joaquin Valley High June 6 – 6 p.m. Parlier HS – North Gym (603 Third St., Parlier)
Parlier High June 8 – 7:30 p.m. Parlier HS – Stadium (603 Third St., Parlier)
Riverdale Unified
School Date & Time Location
Riverdale High June 9 – 7:30 p.m. Riverdale HS – Jack King Field at Cowboy Stadium (3086 W. Mt. Whitney, Riverdale)
Sanger Unified
School Date & Time Location
Sanger High June 6 – 7 p.m. Save Mart Center (2650 E. Shaw Ave., Fresno)
Hallmark Academy June 6 – 7 p.m. Saroyan Theater (730 M St., Fresno)
Sanger Adult June 7 – 7 p.m. WAMS – Auditorium (1705 Tenth, Sanger)
Kings River High June 8 – 5:30 p.m. WAMS – Auditorium (1705 Tenth, Sanger)
Selma Unified
School Date & Time Location
Heartland Alternative Education June 6 – 7:30 p.m. Selma HS – Staley Stadium (3143 S. Thompson Ave., Selma)
Selma High June 8 – 7:30 p.m. Selma HS – Staley Stadium (3143 S. Thompson Ave., Selma)
Sierra Unified
School Date & Time Location
Sierra Alternative High June 7 – 7 p.m. Sierra Alternative Education (33280 Lodge Road, Tollhouse)
Sierra High June 8 – 8 p.m. Sierra HS (33326 Lodge Rd., Tollhouse)
Washington Unified
School Date & Time Location
Alternative Education June 8 – 9 a.m. John Ventura Stadium (WUHS Campus, 6041 S. Elm Ave., Fresno)
Washington Union High June 9 – 7 p.m. John Ventura Stadium (WUHS Campus, 6041 S. Elm Ave., Fresno)

(GV Wire interactive graphic by David Rodriguez)

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Nancy Price,
Multimedia Journalist
Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email

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