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Presidio proudly announced our first Rivet Scholar in Fall 2023. The Rivet School is a Bay Area-nonprofit that supports traditionally underserved students in their pursuit of a college degree. As part of Presidio’s commitment to social justice and DEI, we partnered with the Rivet School to enable their alumni to attend Presidio with a significant scholarship. Our first Rivet Scholar, Sarahi Suarez-Perez, joined us recently for a conversation about her background and what attending Presidio means to her. (The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity).

Q: Why did you decide to attend Presidio Graduate School?woman with brown hair and blue dress

SSP: I heard about Presidio through Rivet. Although I wasn’t actively seeking a graduate program at the time, upon discovering Presidio’s offerings, I realized its direct relevance to my work at First 5 California. As a public agency committed to enhancing the well-being of children and families across the state, I saw how Presidio could significantly amplify my impact in my career.

After several discussions with the admissions team, I found that Presidio’s values aligned perfectly with my own, particularly its strong emphasis on sustainability and social justice/DEI initiatives. These pillars resonate deeply with me both professionally and personally. Moreover, I was determined to avoid accruing significant debt from graduate school while also seeking a program that offered more than just a degree.

Presidio stood out to me because, like Rivet, it fosters a sense of community, support, and understanding of human needs.

Presidio is more transformative and innovative than a typical degree, and I already feel so ingrained in the community here.

Q: How was the Rivet Scholars program helpful to your journey towards Presidio?

SSP: I couldn’t have even started to look at graduate programs without this partnership. As a first-generation immigrant who has been working since the age of 14, pursuing a graduate degree seemed financially out of reach for me. Moreover, in my family, I was not taught how to handle finances, so I’ve been navigating that world on my own.

Now, with the option of monthly payments and scholarships, I can pursue my studies without accumulating a significant amount of debt or undue stress. Without scholarships, affording graduate school would not have been possible for me.

I come from a family where passing up an opportunity to improve our lives would be an injustice. When I complete the program, I’m committed to giving back.

Q: Could you share more about your background and experiences prior to Presidio?

SSP: I was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. when I was nine. Navigating the public school system was challenging initially, as I didn’t speak English and lacked access to translation services. But, I managed to learn English within two years through watching TV and reading!

Upon graduating from high school, I faced another hurdle as I was an undocumented student and could not go to college unless I paid out-of-state tuition. However, in 2013, a pivotal shift occurred with the introduction of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) under President Obama’s administration. This allowed me to obtain a work authorization permit and a social security number, paving the way for me to pursue higher education.

Completing my undergraduate degree was a lengthy journey, and Rivet played a crucial role in helping me navigate the system. For me, it has always felt like a battle—navigating unfamiliar systems as the first in my family to do so, while intertwining my culture and identity with the American dream.

There’s immense pressure to excel and pursue higher education in order to be accepted and because it’s what my parents sacrificed and hoped for when they immigrated here. The Rivet School and the scholarship I received at PGS represent the realization of my parents’ sacrifices and aspirations for a brighter future.

Q: What’s next for you, Sarahi?

SSP: Now, I have the opportunity to follow through with my education and give back to my communities. Advocating for immigration reform and restructuring the system has always been a deeply personal mission for me. However, until the day arrives when reform is realized, there’s important work to be done to improve the lives of those affected by this flawed system.

I’m particularly passionate about working with the younger generation, organizing “Know Your Rights” workshops and providing support where needed. Furthermore, reflecting on my parents’ journey to the US, I’m reminded of the stark reality that migrant communities continue to lack access to vital sustainability initiatives such as clean energy, water, and recycling programs, despite bearing the brunt of climate change impacts. My aim is to collaborate with these communities to narrow this sustainability gap.

While I’m uncertain about the specific role I’ll undertake, my ultimate goal is to stand by my people and the often overlooked communities. This is why I’m here—I have faith that Presidio can provide me with the tools, knowledge, and supportive community necessary to enact meaningful change.


About the Author / Elizabeth Maw

Liz Maw is President of Presidio Graduate School. She has a BA in English from Yale University and an MBA from Columbia Business School.

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