When Rosa Diaz left Mexico as an 8-year-old child, she expected to find the land of opportunity filled with happiness and excitement.
But it was hard.
"Everything was so different from what I was used to - the schools, the music, the food," she recalled. "The hardest thing was learning the language. The other kids used to pick on me and laugh at me."
So she went to work. She applied herself to her studies and became fluent in English. However, racial slurs and peer pressure in middle school began to distract her from her schoolwork and, by high school, she placed little value on her education.
At 15, she found the perfect reason to drop out: She was pregnant. But it had the opposite effect.
"It hit me," she explained. "I wanted to be a good role model for my kids. I didn't want them to be like me, working at a restaurant.
"I wanted to get a higher education, a career."
She got pregnant again at 16, further complicating her dreams of college and further deepening her desire to overcome those challenges.
She continued to go to school throughout both of her pregnancies and was set to graduate from Carson City's alternative high school, Pioneer, last year, but she failed the math portion of the proficiency exam by two points.
She returned as a second-year senior this year and passed the exam in November.
"I was crying because I was so happy," she said. "I actually passed and I'm getting my diploma."
At 19, Diaz is finally beginning to see the opportunity she had hoped for when she first moved to Carson City 11 years ago.
On Thursday, she will be presented with a $1,700 scholarship created by Carson High School senior Maria Urbina.
Urbina, 17, moved to Carson City from Nicaragua when she was 2. She created the scholarship as a way to help a fellow senior who is also not native to the United States.
"Rosa is the epitome of what the scholarship is about," Urbina said. "She embraces the new culture but still has to struggle with the language and other traditions.
"She's proud of who she is."
Diaz plans to use the money, along with $2,000 in other scholarships, to attend cosmetology school at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno.
"I want to go to school and get an education," she said. "And, if God helps me, get my own salon."
And her plans don't stop there. A former volunteer for Nevada Hispanic Services, she wants to find ways to help the community through scholarship and after-school programs. She also wants to work with teenage girls, helping them to avoid pregnancy and encourage them to continue with school if they do become pregnant.
"Before I can do that, I first have to make something of myself," she said. "Then I can reach out to the community.
"A lot of people laugh when I tell them my plans, but I say, 'Just watch, I'm going to do it.'"
Diaz lives in Carson City with her boyfriend, Eric Rodriguez, and children Mariam, 3, and Angel, 2.
Editor's Note: A list of scholarship winners will appear in the Saturday edition of the Nevada Appeal on the Whatever page.
Contact Teri Vance at email@example.com or at 881-1272.