Liliana Vasquez has proved that she doesn’t run from challenges, no matter where or how they come.
As a high school student, she started a swim team at Bishop T.K. Gorman Regional Catholic School when the options were either to quit swimming or leave the school to continue competing.
At 16, she started volunteering at the East Texas Crisis Center despite some reservations from the staff members because she was so young.
She persisted in the effort and ultimately used her Spanish-speaking skills to help someone in need.
Today, after overcoming academic challenges late in her high school career, she is poised to attend The University of Texas at Austin, where she plans to major in government or economics.
She is not certain what she wants to do after college — although law school is a possibility — but, she said, she knows she wants to help people in whatever capacity she can.
Raised in Tyler, Miss Vasquez is the oldest of four children. She is the daughter of two doctors, both from El Salvador, and has attended Catholic schools in Tyler for almost all of her academic life.
Her high schools years shed light on a variety of talents. Miss Vasquez excelled not only academically, but in athletics and the arts as well.
The Rotary Club of Tyler named her Rotary’s Most Outstanding Female High School Senior at Gorman.
She received more than $430,000 in scholarship offers and graduated with a 3.9 GPA and more than 600 hours of community service. (She is accepting only about $3,000 in scholarship money.)
In addition, Miss Vasquez received two superior ratings on artwork at an area exhibit and one of her pieces earned third place at the TAPPS State Competition.
In the letter, Franz cites two examples, one involving swimming and the other academics. As a smaller, academically focused school, Gorman had not had a pool or a swim team.
In the past, most competitive swimmers would attend Gorman through middle school but transfer out at the high school level so they could compete. As a competitive swimmer for much of her childhood, Miss Vasquez was a student who would have fit this category.
However, when it came time to enter high school, she didn’t want to transfer. So the first year she swam alone. She quickly realized that wasn’t any fun, and she couldn’t compete in the relays.
So, she decided to start a Gorman swim team. Franz writes in the letter that she found funding for the first year.
Academically, she learned to adjust her study skills when Advanced Placement and honors classes became more challenging, Franz wrote.
On the service front, Miss Vasquez also chose the path less taken. For the past two years, she has volunteered at the East Texas Crisis Center. She chose to do this after reading a book that involved a sexual assault. She said the book affected her and she wanted to try to help people who might have experience that.
She said the experience has been eye-opening as she has realized that sexual assault and domestic violence are realities in East Texas.
“I didn’t really think about that happening here,” she said.
As Miss Vasquez heads to college, she is still undecided about her career plans but does know that she wants to keep helping people whatever field she enters. She said her time at Gorman has taught her about the value of service, among other things.
She said the recognition she has received this year had helped to boost her confidence.
“I always kind of thought I didn’t have a lot of potential …” she said. “I always thought I was maybe behind my classmates. … It made me realize that I was definitely more than I thought I was.”