Juan Mercado of Compass Comes Full Circle


Viviana Calderon, Contributor

In Mexico, he knew little about education but he loved the outdoors, farming, and taking care of farm animals. Coming to the U.S changed Juan Mercado’s life for the better. Juan Mercado Trujillo traveled to the United States with his mother and younger sister as a result of having to deal with a situation back in Mexico. This led  him to become a person who now inspires students to continue their education and strive on their college journeys by being a counselor and the COMPASS coordinator at SRHS.  

“I see myself with a lot of students so I always see it as a way to pay it forward. It’s super satisfying in terms of being a school counselor and as the COMPASS program coordinator,” said Juan. He is someone who students at San Rafael High School are able to relate to because of the connection of having a similar background. 

Juan Mercado Trujillo, a proud immigrant from Mexico, has made many accomplishments throughout his life yet these accomplishments came with many barriers he had to overcome. 

Challenges such as coming to a new country at such a young age, not knowing how to speak the language everyone spoke around him, and overcoming the stigma and challenges of the journey from highschool to college. 

Although he came to the United States at a young age, he was always willing to learn new things and always tried his hardest in school. Juan went to Tomales High School in West Marin, a small school with only 150 students. Although his school was small, it was diverse. During his high school years, Juan began to face new challenges that would help shape him into the person that he is today. He had a busy schedule managing playing soccer, working, and school. Yet, he was able to prioritize what was important to him. Additionally, he also wasn’t very fluent in English which although being a challenge, allowed him to explore the resources and people around him that could help. “Being in this new environment, it was difficult diving into this new language and new way of learning. While I was learning the language I had friends who would translate for me.”

When senior year came around, Juan decided to join 10,000 Degrees, a program that helped students with their college applications as well as providing resources for anything a student might need. It was then that he realized that he didn’t have the same opportunities that other students had. “I was undocumented, so when it came to applying to programs for financial aid, I knew I couldn’t do it because I didn’t have papers.” Yet, Juan continued seeking help and in the end he was able to receive $16,000-$20,000 of scholarships, which allowed him to go to Sonoma State for a year.

Seeing that the cost of going to Sonoma State was too expensive, Juan decided to go to a junior college for his second year. It was during this time that he realized that he wanted to become a school counselor. He was able to start a small internship as a student advisor for 10,000 Degrees, the same program he had been in throughout high school. It was here where he met Avi Fernandez, a SRHS counselor, and formed a bond that still exists today. “He is someone I trust and someone very down to earth,” said Ms. Fernandez. With the help of Ms. Fernandez, Juan was able to apply for a COMPASS position that was available, which is where he began his journey as a COMPASS coordinator. 

“ I like working with students and I knew that COMPASS would help first-generation students with low income, which hit close to home,” Juan said while sitting down in his office. COMPASS is a College of Marin program that helps students from 9th grade to 12th grade. Aiding and preparing students from the beginning to the end of their highschool journey. While being in the program students are informed with all the different systems like financial aid and A-G requirements. The big part of the program is having students take college classes while being in high school, specifically classes at College of Marin. 

“I’m grateful that I chose the program, it has helped me in the long run and has helped me form new friends in the class,” said Heather DeLeon, a senior at SRHS. Heather has been in the COMPASS program since freshman year and has received a lot of help which she is very thankful for. As a senior, she believes the program and Juan have had a significant impact on her. Being able to connect with Juan has allowed her to gain more insight and have an easier transition to college. “He makes everyone feel included no matter who you are.”

Knowing that he wanted to become a counselor, Juan knew he had to go back to college and get his masters. Now he is doing an internship at SRHS where you can find him either working in his office or helping out in the CCC. “Whenever he sees that I need help with students who come in, he’s always willing to jump in and say hey how can I help you and starts working with the student,” said Seydi Cifuentes, a College and Career Advisor at SRHS. She expressed that although it seems like an obvious kind thing to do, you would be surprised that a lot of people are not willing to do what he does.  

Juan Mercado continues to strive both in his counseling career and personal life. He is a new father, which comes with many responsibilities and time constraints. Yet, students see how Juan is able to still connect with them even when he doesn’t necessarily need to. “He doesn’t have a lot of time but the time that he does have he tries to help students and give back,” said Ms. Cifuentes. 

“The impact that he has is local here but it’s making a larger impact outside of our school which is important,” added Ms. Fernandez.