At just under the age of 6, Mario Alemán crossed the Mexico-U.S. border with his mom, dreaming of a better life in this country. Some 11 years later, Mario is about to graduate from Cross Keys High School in Brookhaven as class valedictorian.

Mario, a Dreamer who benefits from a deportation deferral program for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children known as DACA, will be attending Emory University, where he will study computer engineering. His dream is to design video games and become an entrepreneur.

Mario credits the LAA’s youth program, in which he has participated since the sixth grade, with helping him achieve academic success. For the past seven years, through the Latino Youth Leadership Academy, Mario received after-school tutoring; learned leadership skills and soft skills; visited various universities in Georgia; took trips to the High Museum of Art and Delta Air Lines’ corporate headquarters; and attended a four-week enrichment program each summer. He also became involved with national organizations such as  the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and “met a lot of important people.”

“The LAA program gave me the chance to learn about many universities at an early age,” says Mario, who first visited Emory when he was 11 years old. “It opened my eyes to all the opportunities that I have. I learned that, even if I have DACA, I could still go to college.”

And, the LAA program, he adds, informed him about important issues and gave him the confidence to speak up. “It helped me find my voice to be able to speak on behalf of DACA and the Latino community.”

Mario, who is originally from Zacatecas, is graduating in late May with a 4.2 GPA.