The event, started 17 years ago by the Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Board, is aimed at helping Hispanic students earn college degrees and celebrate their success.And this year's ceremony comes at a time when presidential candidates and the nation are paying particular attention to Hispanic constituents."We have grown tremendously," said Hispanic Advisory Board founder Tomas Jimenez.At 17, he spent a summer working in a lab with his father and found his real passion.It was his dad who also encouraged him to apply to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, despite his own doubts."As I grew older, my interests shifted from the calculated chaos of stock trading, to a desire to understand the inner workings of the market that dictated the chaos."LEILANIE VEGA A first generation college student, pursuing a dream career in medical research has not been easy for Leilanie Vega.The Osceola High School graduate and her family have had to balance the high cost of her attendance at Florida State University with the price of cancer treatment for her father, she said.
To this day, she still struggles with the English language but she is back on track to receiving her associate degree and reaching her ultimate goal "to complete my bachelor's in criminal justice."GABRIEL ALEJANDRO VALDéS With parents in computer programming and engineering, one might assume Valdés planned to major in materials engineering his entire life, but it wasn't until high school that he abandoned his childhood ambitions of becoming a lawyer.
While their pictures each grace the list of scholars honored Friday afternoon, the roads that led Tania Guerrero-Guitierrez, Gabriel Alejandro Valdés, and Nataly Carbonell there couldn't be more different.
Valdés, 18, the grandson of a Cuban navy officer who fled to Miami more than two decades ago, grew up in a family of technology and science professionals.
"They studied, they have good grades and they deserve to be supported."Each honoree received a ,500 scholarship, but their lives are as varied and vast as the countries they represent.
About the scholars: NATALY CARBONELL Carbonell has kept her challenges over the years in perspective.