Former Bainbridge High School valedictorian graduates from Harvard

Published 6:40 pm Friday, June 19, 2015


Erick Juarez holds his diploma after graduating from Harvard University last month.

Up until he was in sixth grade, Erick Juarez and his family lived in a small, square house in a migrant camp near Attapulgus, Georgia.

“It wasn’t the best house, but it was a roof over our heads,” Juarez said. “We were blessed to be here in the United States, and I still am, but compared to my peers growing up and going to school, our lives were just a little bit tougher.”

The little blue house was divided into four equal-sized rooms, and it didn’t have air conditioning. It housed Juarez, his older brother and their parents, who worked in the surrounding tomato fields.

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Juarez says he wants to make a difference, to inspire people and kids to reach and dream big, no matter their backgrounds.

Last month, Juarez graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in neurobiology. He’s spending the summer studying before he takes the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) in September, and then he’s off to Medellin, Columbia to work with a non-profit rehabilitating former child soldiers. After that he’s going to kill some time – potentially with a Fulbright Program – before going to med school and joining the military.

Juarez’s road to Harvard was filled with turns, but he said it started in elementary school when he was placed in a program for gifted children.
“That’s where my drive to learn and want to do something in the world flourished,” Juarez said.

In his middle school years, the family was forced from the migrant camp when the land was bought and the houses destroyed. Juarez relays the move as a positive, because they moved to the city of Bainbridge and he was able to take part in more extracurricular activities.

Through middle and high school Juarez built his resume with quiz bowl, band, JROTC, cross-country and more. The 2010 Bainbridge High School valedictorian credits much of his success to those activities and their respective teachers and leaders.

“Through band, [Pascal Ward] really inspired me to use my talents for the better. He gave me some leadership positions in band throughout those years, and that’s when I started to think I could be a leader not only in the school but also in the community,” Juarez said. “I also got involved in JROTC, which was headed by Colonel [Gary] Breedlove, and he also played a huge role in my life and my current passion for the military and helping veterans.”

After graduating high school, Juarez headed to the United States Military Academy at West Point for cadet basic training.

“My senior year of high school, I had gotten accepted to West Point fairly early in August, and at that point it was West Point or nothing,” Juarez said. “When Dylan [Faircloth] found out I had gotten accepted to Harvard in February, he thought it was the stupidest thing for me to go to West Point over Harvard. He gave me (heck) about it, and looking back now, the tables have turned.”

Faircloth, Juarez’s friend, classmate and cross-country teammate, died in a car crash July 2010 while Juarez was a basic training.

“Dylan definitely played a very impactful role in my life, and his death left a mark as big. His death kind of snowballed into me juggling whether or not I wanted to stay at West Point, if that was what God wanted me to do. After winter vacation freshman year, in addition to other, minor factors, I decided to leave West Point and resign from the Army.”

Juarez said that he had no idea what he would do next, and first-year applications had passed by the time he left West Point in March 2011. He was able to get in touch with the admissions department at Harvard and convinced them to allow him to apply late as a first-year student.

“That was probably the most relieving moment of my life, and I’m sure that God played a huge role in that decision. If that had not happened, I don’t think I definitely would not be where I am today.”