Tyler High senior Adriana Higuera walked to the foyer of her high school Tuesday afternoon having no idea that she would soon receive a full-ride scholarship to UT Tyler.
She was shocked and speechless as she heard the Big Blue Band play for her and saw her father, teachers and administrators.
“I just don’t have any words. I didn’t know what I was coming to,” Higuera said. “I thought I was just going to talk to (counselor) Ms. Anderson. Then, I started hearing the band and they were telling me how they were going to perform for Boulter (Middle School). But I didn’t know it was all for me.”
Higuera was filled with emotion as she hugged her dad, Ezequiel, and began to hear the news that she is one of the 12 East Texas students to earn the UT Tyler Presidential Fellows Scholarship, an academic honor that pays for tuition, fees, books, room and board.
“I can’t believe he didn’t tell me. I want to know when he got the phone call,” she said.
Ezequiel said he faced hardships during the pandemic and was worried about how he could pay for college for his daughter. He's extremely thankful for people that donate to the scholarship fund.
"Earlier I couldn’t thank every single person but I’m grateful to everyone that made it possible. Everyone that donated their money to be able to gift this scholarship to my daughter, I give thanks to every single person," he said. "May God keep blessing each person, and with the money that they donate to keep giving opportunities to a lot of students, because sometimes they want to go to college and sometimes it’s not possible. It's (education) necessary sometimes to continue moving forward."
She was among the four Tyler ISD students surprised with the scholarship on Tuesday. Tyler Legacy High seniors Henry Jones, Maria Kellermann-Jimenez and Christopher Whitmore also earned the scholarship.
Higuera plans to attend UT Tyler this fall and major in biology. She will then earn a Doctorate of Pharmacy to become a pharmacist.
She’s a part of the pharmacy technician class where she learns about the different medications in a pharmacy setting. She and her classmates are set to take the certification test in April to become a pharmacy technicians.
“That class really made me believe that pharmacy is for me, and they have this program where you shadow at pharmacies,” she said. “So I’m at Brick Street Pharmacy shadowing them and I like being there. I know it’s for me.”
Higuera said she chose UT Tyler to be close to her my family and because of its pharmacy school.
She is currently ranked second out of 433 students. She’s a first-generation student who speaks both English and Spanish. She’s worked at Clear Springs Restaurant in Tyler for the past two years.
As a band student, Higuera said it felt great to have the band play for her.
“I saw my band directors up and they were looking at me. I felt like I made them proud,” she said. “They’re like my family away from my home because I spend every minute with them. So I’m really happy they got to be here with me.”
UT Tyler President Dr. Kirk Calhoun congratulated Higuera, Kellermann-Jimenez, Jones and Whitmore for their hard work and dedication. He also shared his appreciation to Tyler ISD.
“We’re here to serve this community to reach out across East Texas,” Calhoun said. “Let’s face it: TISD is in our backyard and we need to make sure we have a great relationship with the high schools here as well as reaching out to others.”
Calhoun said he and other UT Tyler officials couldn’t be more proud of the scholarship winners.
“Obviously when you go to college, you learn a skill that will serve you a lifetime,” Calhoun said. “But I actually believe that there is something more important that you will do while you’re in college and that is demonstrate to the world that you can accomplish a very complicated task. That complicated task is getting your degree and if you get your degree you can prove to the world that you can do just about anything.”
He added that the university likes to help local students by providing scholarships.
“These are wonderful young people that are going to be contributing to their community for a lifetime, and we certainly want to give them that experience here at UT Tyler and we’re thankful to see it happen,” Calhoun said.
He added that the scholarships would not be possible without donors’ generosity.
“Great universities like UT Tyler would not be in a position to provide scholarships like this without the support of the community,” he said. “I really want to thank our community in general. I want to thank our donors. I want to thank the school districts that work so closely with UT Tyler to make sure that we have an excellent flow of students. So that we can be one of the great workforce universities here in Texas to make sure the future of East Texas is bright.”
Kellermann-Jimenez said she felt honored and privileged to be selected for a full ride at UT Tyler. She was confused at first when she was called to the school library, but she became emotional when she saw her parents.
“I’m so grateful. I’m grateful for my teachers, to my family, everyone that supported me,” Kellermann-Jimenez said.
She wants to get her master’s degree and become a speech language pathologist.
“I was actually born in Spain and I moved here when I was in sixth grade so I know kind of what it feels like to have that language barrier,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to help people overcome that.”
Tyler ISD Superintendent Marty Crawford thanked Calhoun for the partnership the school district and UT Tyler have together.
“(A full-ride scholarship) is a phenomenal thing that a lot of us can only dream about,” Crawford said. “Even when I was a student, getting your school paid for, it just doesn’t happen very often.”
UT Tyler officials will be visiting high schools announcing scholarships across East Texas.