TAMPA (FOX 13) - For some people, academic success seems to come easily. But for Carlos Garcia Perez, who came to this country from Cuba at the age of 13, his success is even more impressive.
Carlos is one of those people that just excels, even in adversity.
"In seventh grade, I started with bad grades. Toward the end, I scored above the 95th percentile in English," he explained before realizing he was mistaken, "No, no wait. It was 96th percentile. It was 97th percentile for math and 96 science."
Carlos' excellence has earned him the ultimate distinction. He is about to graduate from Gaither High School as the class valedictorian, and that's not all. Carlos rattled off the list of Ivy League schools that have accepted him.
"Harvard," he said smiling, "which I committed to, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, and Dartmouth."
There are still moments when it occurs to him that his dream is coming true.
"I've been doing so much over the last four or five years," Carlos explained. "You start to question why am I doing this, but I see myself walking through Harvard, through the halls, seeing the big statues, then being there. It's a beautiful feeling."
Not bad for a kid who came to the United States a stranger to the language learning what is arguably the most challenging language in the world. His first stop was Kentucky, southern slang capital of the world.
"I was in Louisville," he said. "It was very hard."
He realized for the first time, books could only take him so far. When you're 13, you need to know slang, or how to talk like "one of the kids." So, he started with the basics.
"I was reading kids books, listening to kids music, watching cartoons with closed captioning," Carlos explained.
He got it. By the eighth grade, he had found his stride, and he poured himself into studying. His parents came to the country as political refugees. It was a hard-fought journey, all for a better life for Carlos -- and they say he found it.
"We wanted freedom and equal opportunity and we came over here and we found that," he said. "The American Dream is as alive today as it has always been. So whatever future you work toward, at least in my experience, hard work really pays off."