December 23, 2014

‘We are ready to take on the world’

Wiping tears from their eyes, the 2015 class of Earl Woods Scholarship Program students smiled. They made their dreams of attending and graduating from college a reality.

“Thank you” was a common theme from the speeches of the 17 graduating scholars, who spoke at the Winter Workshop luncheon in between mock interviews, resume building and post-graduate workshops.

“It’s more than a program, it’s a family,” Grisel Medina, who earned a bachelors degree in psychology and Spanish, said as she commenced the speeches.

Medina is the first in her family to graduate from college, but her list of accomplishments did not come without heartache.

During her time at Chapman University, Medina struggled with financial need. She earned scholarships to study abroad in Seville, Spain, but the funds did not cover everything including food and travel.

Medina’s experiences, whether tiresome or enjoyable, have allowed her to overcome adversity and move toward her goal of working with underprivileged students in the Hispanic community.

Like Medina, many graduating scholars shared their aspirations to give back to their communities upon earning a college degree.

“All of you have given me the strength to continue my social justice work and furthering the cause of justice together,” Alemar Brito, who studied sociology at Stanford University, said.

And above all, their gratitude toward the Earl Woods Scholarship Program staff illustrated the development these students have made from day one of the program.

“I can honestly say I owe much of my college success to the Earl Woods Scholarship Program, Melissa Arambulo, UC-Berkeley architecture graduate said. “They taught us life skills and how to be aware of our abilities.”

“We are all graduating because you made this possible for me,” Hector Pantoja of Whittier College said. “Thank you for believing in me, because now I believe in myself.”

“Your support, your love, your care is what brought us here today,” Kevin Nguyen, USC graduate in computer engineering, said. “We are ready to take on the world.”

“Before I started college, I didn’t know what to expect,” Eduardo Rivas, Lewis & Clark graduate, said. “I was scared, insecure, weak and didn’t consider myself a leader. I stood out because I was one of the only students of color. I will admit I have stumbled many times and have fallen down. Don’t give up, don’t give in. Use this opportunity to become a leader and learn your true identity.”

Stephanie Estrada is the first in her family to graduate from high school and earn a bachelors degree. With two of her siblings, one of whom is her twin, having mental disabilities, she hopes to work in the nonprofit sector and eventually become a professor to help adults with disabilities find educational opportunities.

“When I was a little girl, I always dreamed of going to college and it was just a dream. I was able to make my dream a reality,” the Chapman University graduate said.

As the scholars finished their speeches, there was a brief pause of silence. In that moment, scholars, mentors, families and staff reflected on the obstacles and memories of the past. The ultimate goal was achieved, but the journey has just begun. 

Help break the cycle of poverty and help another Earl Woods Scholar graduate from college by donating today.