Yasmin Aguilar-Diaz was uncertain about the next chapter in her life when it came to education, but thanks to her accomplishments in the classroom, there’s now a door of opportunity.
The senior was recently honored for being awarded the Golden Door Scholarship and will attend a university for four years on a full academic award. Established a few years ago, the nonprofit provides high achieving undocumented students with college scholarships or internship and career opportunities.
“I feel proud because when I started my senior year, I didn’t know if I was going to college, because I didn’t have the financial resources,” Aguilar-Diaz said.
She will be allowed to select where she wants to attend. Some of the partner schools include Queens University of Charlotte, Wake Forest University and Wofford College. A decision has not been made yet, but she’s thinking about having a career in engineering or marketing.
“I like the creativity behind marketing and trying to find different ways to sell stuff,” she said.
Aguilar-Diaz and other selected students will also have the opportunity to benefit from a mentoring and leadership programs to help with college.
According to statistics, 65,000 undocumented students in the United States graduate from high schools each year. More than half of states require those students to pay out-of-state tuition at pubic universities and only 5 to 10 percent of students in tuition states attend college. It’s a challenge Golden Door Scholars work to fix.
The rigorous process involved filling out applications, essays and several interviews, which was a first for the shy student. To help ease it, she practiced with Jessica Alvarez, Union High School’s college counselor. Later, Aguilar-Diaz traveled to Red Ventures, marketing and sales service company for a face-to-face interview with Golden Door officials in South Carolina.
At Union High School, students are encouraged to seek scholarships to help decrease the need for loans, which can be a burden in the future. To receive the scholarship Aguilar-Diaz singed up for harder classes.
“Even though the possibility of going to college was not high, I still pushed to better myself and not to impress a college person,” Aguilar-Diaz said.
The result was receiving a four-year scholarship.
Aguilar-Diaz is also a member of the school’s Beta Club and Key Club. Through the service-based organizations, Aguilar-Diaz participates in community service projects such as Christmas caroling at a nursing home. She also translates with English as Second Language (ESL) parents at Union’s elementary and intermediate schools.
“It’s one of the things I’m proud of because I’m helping out people from the community that were like I was,” Aguilar-Diaz said.
Growing up, Aguilar-Diaz struggled with learning English after arriving from Mexico. Now, she enjoys helping ESL parents connect with their child’s education while providing motivation as well.
“When I first came here, my mom didn’t understand English and didn’t understand English that well,” she said. “It was very hard to communicate and for her to keep up with how I was doing in school.”
After her parents divorced, her father moved back to Mexico and her mother struggled to bring income while trying to raise Aguilar-Diaz and her older siblings. When she was younger, she worked and had obstacles trying to balance school. Currently, Aguilar-Diaz cleans homes with her mother and usually returns about 7 p.m. to study.
Despite challenges in her life, Aguilar-Diaz persevered by becoming a Golden Door scholar. Alvarez was excited about Aguilar-Diaz’s accomplishment and being the only student from Sampson County to receive the honor.
“She is a really high achieving student,” Alvarez said. “She really one of those students that deserve it. I was really happy for her.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.