“He told me last week he had chosen Penn,” said Jennifer Santi, who taught English to Sanchez in 10th grade and has kept close ties to him since. “We had a good laugh because he almost didn’t apply. I think he was afraid to ask for another letter of recommendation. But I’d have written 100 letters for this child.”
Thanks to her encouragement, Sanchez, a Mexican immigrant who became an American citizen, applied to the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, ranked by US News & World Report as the top business school in the country, was accepted and has only a few months before he heads to Philadelphia for college.
“I was sure I wasn’t going to get in,” he said. “I was looking at all the schools I was applying to and realized you have to aim high and see if you can actually get there. Teachers and friends were confident in me. That reassured me to apply and see what happens.”
That doesn’t mean choosing a school was easy. Sanchez applied to the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Yale, Northwestern, North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Brown and Emory in addition to Penn. To his surprise, he was accepted to all of them except Yale, which put him on its waitlist. With so many offers to choose from, campus visits proved to be the deciding factor.
“After I visited a few schools, I realized Penn was the place,” he said. “I was more comfortable there.”
As to why he chose business, Sanchez has been involved in several nonprofit organizations during high school and enjoyed the experience of learning how to be a leader. He also excelled in math and saw the business world as a perfect intersection of the two.
Sanchez also is one of only 1,000 students nationally to win the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship.
Founded by former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, the scholarship pays all costs of college for 10 years. To apply, he wrote a series of eight 1,000-word essays about himself. Out of 52,000 applicants, Sanchez made the final cut.
History in Mexico, U.S.
The journey to the Ivy League took a winding path for Sanchez. He was born in Queretaro, Mexico, and moved to the United States as a young child.
After attending Atlanta Public Schools for kindergarten and first grade, he moved back to Mexico, returning to Georgia a second time as he neared middle school.
That proved to be the last move as the family settled in Marietta. Sanchez attended Marietta Sixth Grade Academy and Marietta Middle School before spending the last four years at Marietta High School.
“In Mexico, I was in this small bubble. I didn’t know anything outside my small town,” said Sanchez. “So when I came to the U.S., I was experiencing a great deal of culture shock. It was a new language, culture and way of life. So it was difficult for me, especially the first year. Once I became used to it, I became more open minded and more aware of my surroundings.”
While acknowledging Mexico gave him a strong sense of community, culture, history and traditions, he says moving to the U.S. is one of the best decisions his parents ever made.
Hispanic heritage is a big part of Sanchez’ identity. One group he’s heavily involved in is called Hispanic Organization Promoting Education, or HOPE, through which he works with and encourages other Hispanic students. He’s been president of the Marietta chapter for the past year.
“It has been my biggest commitment,” he said. “It means a lot to me because while at school, I was getting ahead in my classes, but felt I was getting detached from my community. With HOPE, I found that bridge, and with it I’ve been able to influence other Hispanic students who are struggling or don’t see themselves having a bright future.”
Because of his commitments to family, organizations like HOPE and Marietta High’s student council, Sanchez hasn’t had time for sports or music organizations at the school. One way he expresses himself is through short films, usually about people’s everyday lives.
A recent film shown at Marietta High’s auditorium depicted a young waiter who stops by a convenience store on his way home. Purchasing a lottery ticket with a big tip he received, the young man is shocked to find it’s a $10,000 winner. He gets home and starts telling his parents that something really exciting happened, but reaching into his pocket realizes the ticket was lost on the way. He instead pulls out the remainder of his large tip and tells his parents about that.
Sanchez said it’s about making the most of your life.
“I wanted to show his work, his family and stuff like that,” Sanchez said. “The film was in Spanish with subtitles, which I felt added a more realistic feel. The ending is supposed to show he can’t really escape his life. It’s just what it is, and you have to make the best of your circumstances.”
Education was emphasized to Sanchez by his mother, Maria Vargas, at a young age. Vargas taught in Mexico for 20 years and told her children education is the only way to rise above your circumstances.
Teacher describes Sanchez
Santi describes Sanchez as a “teacher’s dream.”
“He’s one of the most gracious students I’ve ever had,” she said.
Santi said one of the highlights of her career was when the Sanchez family invited her to watch Sanchez and his brother, Francisco, now a 20-year-old University of Georgia student, get their citizenship in 2012.
“It was a beautiful ceremony,” she said. “I got to watch the embodiment of the American dream.”
Santi also taught Francisco, which created an instant bond when the younger Sanchez enrolled in her class. She said she and Ivan learn from each other.
Asked where he’ll be in 10 years, she said Sanchez will be anywhere he wants.
“He will give of himself to society in some way,” she said. “He’ll be working for people in terms of trying to help them better their lives. He’s one of those people you meet and you know he wants to better society.”
She said his involvement with the HOPE is just one example of his giving spirit.
“What happened with Ivan, he’ll be my story for future generations,” Santi said. “I can’t think of a kid who deserves it more than this one. It’s a beautiful story.”