The room was filled with expensive ball gowns and dotted with tuxedos. Servers in white linen shirts and gold-plated name tags hurried around the room, offering bottles of wine and clearing dishes from the tables.
The approximately 700 people were gathered in the ballroom of the Northern Kentucky Convention Center for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund Gala, which Northern Kentucky University is a sponsor of.
Every year at the gala, a student who has been a recipient of the scholarship tells those gathered how that money has affected him or her. This year the speaker was Melisa Roman, a junior education major at NKU.
Roman said she was happy to be able to thank the group personally for their work on her behalf, and related how the money had affected her life.
Roman is a native of Peru and said that her mother married an American, so her family moved to Kentucky. She said that learning English at 18 years old was very difficult, but that her high school teachers were very patient with her.
“I always wanted to attend college,” Roman said. “I knew I was ready spiritually, but not financially.” So she called NKU to see what options she had available to her, and spoke with Leo Calderon, the coodinator of the Office of Latino Student Affairs.
Calderon told Roman about the Latino student organization on campus.
When she heard about the Latino student organization, Roman said, “I knew this university was for me.”
Roman felt like she had found the right university, but didn’t know where to go from there because she didn’t have the money to pay for it.
“I was growing in debt,” Roman said. “I didn’t have money for my books, so I was putting it on credit cards. I had three jobs and six classes.”
That’s when Calderon told Roman about the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, and urged her to apply for it.
She received the scholarship for the 2004 school year as well as the 2005-2006 school year. “This scholarship as helped me make furthering my education a reality,” Roman said.
Although Roman is grateful for the aid that she’s received from the scholarship, she said that she wonders what will become of other Latinos who don’t have the same opportunity that she does.
“I think of my brothers and their friends who are seniors in high school,” she said. “Some of my friends will be cleaning houses for $7 an hour or working in crops. They are just as smart as I am, but immigrants will have to pay three times more than I do as an in-state resident.”
NKU President James Votruba also spoke at the gala. “Every person and culture should be able to realize the American dream,” he said. “Education is the pathway to that.”
Votruba also said that this region had been a leader in supporting the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and that nearly $50,000 had been donated to the fund from the local colleges.
“We all know the Latino culture is rich in what it has to offer the region,” he said. “We’re on an ambitious journey and we’re going to succeed.”
One of the goals of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, a national organization, is to get more Hispanic Americans graduating from college.
“We are working hard to fulfill our mission of doubling the rate of Hispanic Americans graduating with a college degree by 2010,” said Sara Martinez Tucker, president and CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund in the gala brochure.