WAKEFIELD — Kenneth Ibarra Suarez was 11 years old when his family immigrated to the United States from Mexico. He knew only three words in English: “chicken,” “bathroom,” and “chair.”
But Suarez, who had always been good at math, nevertheless qualified for an honors math course, and was thrust into a classroom with an English-speaking teacher.
“I had no one to translate for me so I just kind of had to observe what everyone else was doing and just go with the flow,” Suarez said. “I tried paying as much attention as I could and I did my best.”
Suarez, who lives in Saugus with his family, finished the course with a grade of 87 despite not even speaking the language that the course was taught in.
By eighth grade, Suarez was already fluent in English. He excelled throughout his four years at Northeast Metro Tech, and is both valedictorian of the Class of 2023 and the school’s Outstanding Vocational Student of the Year.
Suarez completed his senior year while taking four Advanced Placement classes and Honors Spanish III, and finished with the highest GPA in the senior class.He is an active member of the National Honor Society, the National Technical Honor Society, the Peer Mentoring Program, Students Against Destructive Decisions, and serves as historian of the Northeast Metro Tech Student Council.
Suarez was also named the school’s Student Athlete of the Year in 2022, and was the captain of Northeast Metro Tech’s boys soccer team this season. He is also a recipient of the Electrical Craftmanship Award, the highest honor a student can receive from a technical shop at Northeast Metro Tech, and a recipient of a highly competitive John and Abigail Adams Scholarship.
Suarez said he studies hard because of the sacrifices made by his parents, Kenneth Ibarra and Ana Suarez, who slept without warm blankets in the winter so that they could afford warm clothes for their children when they first arrived in America.
“Seeing that and remembering how harsh those times were always kept me trying my best on every single project I did, whether it was in electrical or academics,” Suarez said. “That’s really my motivation. One day I want to be able to retire my parents and enable them to not work.”
Suarez is working at Building Automation Systems in Weymouth through Northeast Metro Tech’s Co-Op Program, and he plans to continue working there this summer to save up money for college.
This fall, he will attend the University of Massachusetts Lowell to study Electrical Engineering.
Frank Barker, who was Suarez’s shop teacher for four years, said Suarez realized early on that he wanted to be an electrical engineer, and then worked passionately toward that goal and the pathway that Northeast Metro Tech created for him.
“He’s very diligent, and he takes high school very seriously,” said Barker.
“Kenneth is smart, respectful to everyone, humble, analytical, he has an excellent work ethic, is a team player, is likeable, and is a well-balanced student,” said Maira Mejia, a bilingual adjustment and guidance counselor who nominated Suarez as Outstanding Vocational Student of the Year. “He loves to learn and help others.”
Jeffrey Lefave, Suarez’s AP Computer Science and Honors Precalculus teacher, said Suarez has a sharp mind, and always tries to understand more than just the answers to test questions.
“He works really hard to ask thought-provoking questions, and to try to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, and why the solution is the way it is,” Lefave said. “He’s got an inquisitive mind.”
“Kenny is a bright, determined, humble young man. He loves to learn. I have had the opportunity to watch him develop from a quiet, unsure 9th grader into a confident, caring senior with a tremendous work ethic,” said Principal Carla Scuzzarella. “Kenny is a wonderful representative of all that is best about Northeast Metro Tech High School. His smile and positive attitude will be greatly missed by our school. I am not only proud of Kenny as his principal, but I have the good fortune of living around the corner from Kenny in Saugus, so I am extra proud of him as a fellow Saugonian!”