Jackson Heights teen earns prestigious award

Jackson Heights teen earns prestigious award
Winners of the The New York Times College Scholarship Program have demonstrated academic achievement, a drive for success — especially in the face of financial and other obstacles — and community service.
Photo courtesy of Theresa Gonzales
By Tammy Scileppi

The sky’s the limit for a smart, socially conscious Jackson Heights teen celebrating two really big wins.

At 17, Daisy Torres has already achieved a lot and is looking forward to the next exciting chapter as a freshman at Princeton University.

The ambitious, straight-A student just graduated from Francis Lewis High School and was recently chosen to receive a prestigious, life-changing award.

Torres was over the moon after finding out she was one of 10 lucky high school students, representing all five boroughs, who were selected as winners of The New York Times College Scholarship Program. A special awards ceremony took place at the New York Times building May 24 and along with a partial college scholarship, winning scholars received much-needed laptops as well as gifts from anonymous donors.

“I was ecstatic! The program director, Theresa Gonzales, called me to let me know and I was not expecting it. I shouted, ‘Oh my gosh!’ into the phone a thousand times,” Torres recalled. “My parents were excited for me and knew how much it meant for me to receive this honor. I think they were especially happy about me being able to intern at The New York Times, which I will next summer.”

Thanks to this dynamic program, since 1999 scores of New York City students who would not have been able to attend college have been given an amazing opportunity to benefit from a solid education. Like Torres, the other promising students – like her friend, Solangy Juarez from Brooklyn, who just graduated from Brooklyn College Academy – were recognized for achieving academic excellence despite overcoming hardship. These selected few have all exhibited a sense of social purpose and shown a keen interest in a variety of diverse academic subjects that range from technology and science to liberal arts and journalism.

According to The Times, since 2015, each award recipient receives a four-year college scholarship for a maximum of $15,000 annually to attend any nationally accredited, four-year college to which they have been admitted for full-time study. In addition, mentoring and internship opportunities at The New York Times Company are provided.

Funding for the program comes from a wide range of private sources, including major contributions from New York Times subscribers.

At the start of her senior year, the determined teen was looking for scholarships that would not only help financially but offer support through the college transition. “The New York Times College Scholarship aims to help underprivileged youth from NYC like me thrive in college,” Torres explained. “I’m thankful the program has recognized my excitement and perseverance to succeed in college.”

During the awards ceremony, every New York Times scholar had to present a speech for the teacher they were honoring, according to Torres. She chose her guidance counselor, Ricardo Verastegui, for helping her with the college application process and being a support network throughout high school.

This summer she is excited about her newest challenge: attending Princeton’s bridge year program, called Freshman Scholars Institute, where she will take classes to gain credit and meet scholars from different backgrounds. “I’m planning on being part of the education system. Not sure of what exact profession yet, but I want to work on education reform in third world countries,” Torres said. “I’ll be majoring at the Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs.”

As the only child of Ecuadorian immigrants, Daisy saw them struggle to get ahead. But she also observed how the other half lived. Her mother worked as a nanny on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and her young daughter spent time in that lavish home. Torres later recalled that it was the first time she had witnessed privilege.

“It was difficult at times growing up with a small family, but I know I have endless support and love from my family in Ecuador,” said Torres, who appreciates the vibrant diversity of her close-knit Queens community.

The compassionate teen shared how her experiences along the way shaped her as a person. “I’ve watched an endless cycle of girls trade in their cap and gown for baby strollers, leaving behind their education. These circumstances inspired me to become a mentor for younger girls through the nonprofit Powerplay NYC, which helps girls from under-resourced neighborhoods through health and fitness,” she explained.

Torres sees her own model for who she could be to these young girls. “The experience taught me that I’m capable of guiding these girls through the trials of life. Higher education will transform me into the Michelle Obama (a Princeton alum) they need. I want to inspire girls to never lose sight of their own potential. In college, I hope to become involved in community-based organizations and education reform. If anything, I don’t want to prosper despite my background, but because of it.”

Torres said she is truly grateful for all the positivity and words of encouragement she has received during this entire process. “From the family I made at LEDA (Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America), to my counselors from Francis Lewis and LEDA, as well as my writing mentor, Ms. Kim, to the Opportunity Network family and to the start of it all, Powerplay NYC.”

She added: “And a big thank you to the people who have offered me genuine advice and kindness throughout my high school career.

“My parents are my root for motivation and have helped me through every step. Now, going to college, I hope to make them proud and show them the worth of their sacrifices.”

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