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Fernando Gonzalez, 18, a graduating senior at Marine Leadership Academy, Chicago, holds up a Stanford University flag

Fernando Gonzalez graduated from Marine Leadership Academy in Logan Square with 12 AP courses under his belt — plus nine college classes, earning 27 college credits and a 4.0 GPA at the City Colleges of Chicago. “Because my parents never had the chance to even experience high school … it kind of motivated me,” Gonzalez said.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

CPS grads, lifelong neighbors, head to Stanford together on full rides

Despite taking diverging paths, Guadalupe Miranda and Fernando Gonzalez graduated from Chicago Public Schools last week. They’re now hanging out to share their excitement about college plans.

Guadalupe Miranda was on a college visit in Virginia last fall when she thought she recognized an old classmate in the group.

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“I was like, ‘Did you go to Nixon Elementary School? Like, in Chicago,’” she recalls asking.

Fernando Gonzalez had in fact attended Nixon in the Hermosa neighborhood on the Northwest Side. And he grew up two blocks away from Miranda. But the two teenagers went to different high schools.

The childhood classmates and neighbors didn’t end up picking the college in Virginia. But as fate would have it, they both earned full scholarships to Stanford University and chose to attend the West Coast school in August.

“From our last encounter at elementary school to finding out she’s also going to Stanford is incredible,” Gonzalez said. “We share many things in common regarding our roots in Hispanic culture, which has brought us even closer, knowing we can support each other as neighbors.”

Despite spending years apart and taking diverging paths, both graduated from Chicago Public Schools last week. They’re now hanging out to share their excitement about their college plans. Miranda and Gonzalez are also the first in their families to attend college, and they both have parents and younger siblings who are sad but proud that they’re going away for school.

“It’s just really nice to see other people from my neighborhood and my background doing the same things,” Miranda said. “Now I have Fernando who I can book my flights with when we come home from winter break. And we can actually relate to how we’re feeling because we’re from the same exact neighborhood and going to the same college.”

Guadalupe Miranda, 18, a graduate of Chicago Public Schools and founder of two nonprofits aiding migrants and teaching children from low-income communities about health and science, poses at her home on Tuesday, June 4, 2024.

Guadalupe Miranda will be attending Stanford University this fall after having a busy high school career at DeVry University Advantage Academy, a CPS dual enrollment high school in Ravenswood where students take high school and college courses simultaneously. She’s the first in her family to get a high school diploma and is graduating with 68 college credits and an associate’s degree in networking administration.

Peyton Reich/For the Sun-Times

Fernando Gonzalez

Gonzalez admits he wasn’t the most engaged elementary school student.

But when he was mistakenly enrolled in an Advanced Placement bootcamp in 9th grade, he was intrigued to learn more. He soon realized he loved the material and the rigor so much that he made a study group and eventually passed the AP geography exam, jump-starting his high school career.

Four years later, Gonzalez graduated from Marine Leadership Academy in Logan Square with 12 AP courses under his belt — plus nine college classes, earning 27 college credits and a 4.0 GPA at the City Colleges of Chicago.

“Because my parents never had the chance to even experience high school … it kind of motivated me to see what AP courses offered to me, especially financial situations because I come from a low-income background,” Gonzalez, 18, said. “I didn’t really have a mindset where I really wanted to go, but the goal for me was to pay less for college.”

Now Gonzalez is a star student. He was essentially his class president for his entire time at Marine Leadership — or company commander, as the military school calls it. He was awarded this year’s Distinguished Cadet award, which goes to the top JROTC student in CPS. And with the help of several scholarships, all his college expenses are paid for, including flights back home to Chicago.

“He’s done it all,” said Gunnery Sgt. Miguel Cruz Jr., a military instructor at Marine Leadership Academy, who’s known Gonzalez since he was in 7th grade.

“He’s a self-motivator, he’s a go-getter. He’s one of those kids that doesn’t stop trying,” Cruz said. “He would bug me a lot about recommendation letters. He kept me busy the entire year. ‘I’m applying for this, I’m applying for that.’ And look where he’s at. I’m so proud of him.”

Gonzalez has worked at McDonald’s for three years to help take the financial burden off his family’s shoulders. He’s leaving that job to take an internship more aligned with his passion: computer science, cybersecurity and information technology. He’ll work in that role remotely at Stanford.

“My dad used to work at McDonald’s for more than 30 years,” Gonzalez said. “Me working at McDonald’s as well, I kind of wanted to break that chain. … A job is a job no matter what. But I feel like something should change for the better.”

He’s looking to join Stanford’s cybersecurity club to learn more about the field. And his ultimate goal is to build more ethical and usable artificial intelligence.

“Technology can be biased, and I really want to eliminate that,” Gonzalez said.

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Fernando Gonzalez has “done it all,” said Gunnery Sgt. Miguel Cruz Jr., a military instructor at Marine Leadership Academy, who’s known Gonzalez since he was in 7th grade. “He’s a self-motivator, he’s a go-getter. He’s one of those kids that doesn’t stop trying,” Cruz said.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Guadalupe Miranda

Pharmacy technician? Check.

Nonprofit founder? Yes — twice.

Associate’s degree? Completed.

Surfing? Not quite there yet, but it’s a goal at Stanford.

Miranda has had a busy high school career at DeVry University Advantage Academy, a CPS dual enrollment high school in Ravenswood where students take high school and college courses simultaneously.

She’s the first in her family to get a high school diploma and is graduating with 68 college credits and an associate’s in networking administration.

But it’s Miranda’s work outside of school that ties more closely to her dream of providing free and affordable health care for women in low-income communities. Miranda will be on a pre-med track at Stanford with the aim of going to medical school and specializing either in women’s health or pediatric cancer.

Miranda has been working as a pharmacy technician — in addition to her restaurant hostess job. She started an organization called Resilient Hands for Latine, which has taken and distributed donations for newly arriving migrant families in Chicago. Families and teachers at school have offered donations to support the group, as have her family members. She also founded Eyes on Chicago, which teaches science lessons to kids aged 3 to 13 at the local library.

“I want to offer my own clinic so I can offer pro bono work in Chicago in my neighborhood on the West Side,” Miranda said. “That’s something I always really valued, is giving back to my community. Because I don’t think I would have been here without all of them.”

DeVry Academy counselor Gabriella Graziano connected Miranda with a friend who’s an OB/GYN, and she expects to shadow the doctor at the hospital soon.

“It’s not just a kid who woke up and was like,’ I don’t know, I maybe want to be a doctor,’” Graziano said. “‘I’m like, this is a credible, hard-working [student]; if you’re worried about bringing a kid into the [operating room], this isn’t the one.

“She just wants so badly to learn and share what she’s doing,” Graziano said.

Miranda already emailed a pro bono health clinic out in California to ask about volunteer opportunities when she goes to college. And she’s working on a certificate that will let her work as a pharmacy tech on campus. She said she’ll still find time for hobbies like the Mexican folklórico dancing club, ceramics and yes, surfing.

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Guadalupe Miranda and her grandfather, Cristobal, are best friends and are always together. He’s helped raise her since she was 3 and he says he is proud of what she’s accomplished..

Peyton Reich/Sun-Times

But Miranda might have a tough time leaving home — especially her grandfather, Cristobal Miranda. The two are best friends and are always together. He’s helped raise her since she was 3, when her grandmother passed. She said her grandpa always wanted to go to college but never had the opportunity — the family says her brains came from him.

“I’m so proud that she’s doing this for herself,” Cristobal Miranda said in Spanish.

Miranda also has four younger sisters — and a fifth on the way — who look up to her.

“I know my sisters are really proud,” Miranda said. “My younger sisters especially, them seeing someone who looks like them and comes from the same background is going to give them that courage like, ‘I can do that too. I can get into a school like that.’”

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