Damaris Sanchez – LatPro Scholarship Finalist for August 2012

In the fall of 2008, a young brown-eyed woman with curly black hair and caramel skin sat in Washington Square Park. While she stared at the powerful sprays from the central fountain, childhood memories stirred. There were struggles that she did not want to remember, such as when this same five-year-old girl went to St. Vincent’s hospital to be evaluated by unfamiliar faces for a learning disability she did not know she had. She thought: Am I that dumb? Would I have the help I need to continue with my education? Other faint images surfaced, such as wiping down dirty windows and tables at other people’s homes, helping her mother do laundry, mop floors, and dust wooden panels. America, her aging mother, had alligator-like crusted skin on her frail hands, a permanent reminder of hard manual labor. The girl could not stand to see her mother suffer this way. That little girl was me.

I value education so much mostly because of my mother. Her influence and wisdom inspired me. My parents immigrated to NYC from Puerto Rico in search of the American Dream. Mother worked in a sewing factory and my father, Rafael, was a doorman. Their dream ended when he died of a heart attack. At six years old, I felt lost. It was even harder for America, because our economic problems fell upon her shoulders: Who would pay the rent and who would take care of us? Throughout our struggles, my mother became my role model, and taught me not to give up or dwell on the past. She pushed my brother, my sister and me through school and cleaned apartments to support us.

I’ve always admired her integrity and willpower. Mother was not ashamed of her own lack of education. Her focus was to nurture her children. She influenced my determination to become what she called remarkable. As a Hispanic girl from a low-income household, I understood that a radical change was necessary to escape hardship. I was motivated to work hard for my education, and one day to establish a career to support my family. She taught me that a learning disability would not limit what I want to do in life. I was born to survive, like her.

During senior year of high school, I was told that I had no chance of being accepted into a prestigious college. I felt incompetent, but my mother’s faith gave me the strength to apply for scholarships to good colleges. In 2008, when I first walked under the historic white arch in Washington Square Park, I was in awe. I felt accomplishment, honor, and gratitude to have been accepted into NYU through the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) on a scholarship from Ronald McDonald House Charities with support from the Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities. My college experience has led me to want to pursue a career in higher education.

I am passionate about serving as an advisor in impoverished neighborhoods where minority youth are underrepresented. Only 50% of Latino and African-American students graduate from high school. They do not have adequate resources for college and lack access to advisors to support their needs. I want to change that statistic and help youth through advisement by becoming a female representative of color. I can relate to them because I understand what it feels like to be seen as a number, and I know how much we strive to break away from the stereotypes that the media portrays. I could share my skill in investigating scholarships that talented students can apply for.’s scholarship program for Hispanic students is proud to announce Damaris Sanchez as one of the six finalists for its August 2012 application deadline. Vote for her essay (Facebook ‘Like’ and other social media sharing options in left column), and/or leave comments of support to help us with the selection process.

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