Emmanuel Berrelleza has unbridled ambition.
You can see it in his eyes as he talks about the nonprofit he started, or the $10,000 college scholarship he received through the United States Senate Youth Program, or as he lists the Ivy League colleges he applied to for the fall (all of them, that is).
The 17-year-old Las Vegas High School student is a Clark County School District success story — one that’s hopefully just getting started.
Berrelleza’s Mexican parents initially came to the U.S. illegally. When his dad was laid off, his parents had to rent out his room. Money has always been tight.
“They’ve continuously worked,” he said of his parents while sitting in the small kitchen of their Las Vegas home. “My mom has two jobs, and so they’ve done so much for me and my seven other siblings.”
For Berrelleza — who dreams of going to Stanford or Harvard and becoming the first Hispanic president one day — that means he can’t afford to fail.
“I feel an obligation to my parents and myself — and my future family,” he said.
Even while his family lived paycheck to paycheck, Berrelleza decided to launch a nonprofit called Face It to provide food and clothing donations to underdeveloped countries.
He couldn’t afford a lawyer to fill out the 501(c)3 paperwork, and he rejected his parents’ offer to take out a loan. So at 15, he filled out the legal paperwork himself.
“It was one of those things I could not let go of. I need to get it done,” he said. “Now it’s like my little child.”
Berrelleza is one of two Nevada students selected for the national youth Senate program, and he will travel to Washington, D.C. next month.
There, he’ll meet President Donald Trump.
So what does a low-income Mexican-American kid from Las Vegas have to ask the controversial president?
“Something that I really hope to ask him is the remarks that he says with women and Muslims and minorities,” he said. “I wonder if (when) he says those things, if he genuinely believes them, or if it’s just a media tactic.”
In a thought-provoking twist, Berrelleza will go to the nation’s capital as the son of Mexican immigrants — just as Trump builds the very wall that would prevent others like his parents from crossing over.
“There’s definitely ways to say things, especially when it comes to politics and the huge groups of people that are being categorized,” he said. “But I don’t think shunning other people out is the way to go about it.”
A lot stands between Berrelleza and his hopes for a future political career.
If his grades stick, he’ll graduate as valedictorian this spring. He’ll learn about the fate of his Ivy League ambitions in April.
But that doesn’t stop him from dreaming — first of providing a better life and income for his own family.
Beyond that, his goals are broad yet simple.
“Overall, just try to make a change in this world,” he said. “And a pretty significant one at that.”
Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter. On Education appears every other Saturday.