It was the hardest decision Rolando Pablo Lorenzo made in his young life. At the age of 14, Rolando left his family and left his life in Guatemala for better opportunities in the United States.
“I came here with a dream,” Rolando said. “And to be somewhere in life. Leaving my family, I wish I could have them with me here. Supporting me. Giving me love that most of the kids need.”
Rolando made the trek from Guatemala to California with his grandfather before eventually landing in the small community of Palcines where he now lives with his uncle. Rolando admits he struggled to adapt to his new surroundings.
“When I arrived in California, it was different,” Rolando said. “Very different. The culture. The language. Traditions. Everything.”
And then there was the language barrier.
“When I first arrived, I didn’t speak English,” Rolando said. “I didn’t know any word in English. Not even saying ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello.’”
Rolando immersed himself in both work and school. He spent his mornings working in the fields and his nights in the classroom where he met San Benito High teacher Carissa Alvarez.
“From the first day I met him, he had that something special that not a lot of kids have,” Alvarez said. “He is a worker. He just has this desire to learn and to improve. And he’s got the immigrant hunger. Where I think he’s seen how hard life can be and he sees education as his way out.”
It should come as no surprise that Rolando thrived as a student at San Benito High. Alvarez says he was every teacher’s dream student.
“The ELD (English Language Development) teachers would joke and we would look at the rosters and we would see who had Rolando,” Alvarez said. “And we would be like, ‘Oh man!’”
Joanne Kaplansky, an English Learner Program specialist at San Benito High, predicted Rolando’s success from the very beginning.
“He was just very eager from the get go,” Kaplansky said. “He’s a role model for all of our students that no matter what the circumstance is, anything can be accomplished.”
Rolando graduated from San Benito High in June, fulfilling his dream of receiving a high school diploma.
“To me, it was something impossible,” Rolando said. “Because I didn’t imagine to be in high school. To learn English. To graduate. To have a diploma.”
As for what’s next, Alvarez says she sees big things in Rolando’s future.
“He’s the kid that’s going to roll with the adversity and he’s going to overcome,” Alvarez said. “Because it’s just who he is. He’s not going to take no for an answer. He’s just going to keep pushing.”