When Vanessa Ortega decided to apply to TCU’s class of 2019, her friends doubted that she would be accepted.
“People told me that TCU was a long shot,” said Ortega, a senior at South Hills High School in Fort Worth. “I didn’t let that stop me.”
Earlier this month, Ortega was one of 42 students from the Dallas/Fort Worth area named as a Community Scholar for the class entering in the fall. The scholarship pays for tuition, room, board and school supplies.
Ortega said people told her she was a long shot for TCU because her first year in high school was terrible. That was the year her parents’ marriage broke up and her mother left the family.
“My motivation was taken away when my mom left,” Ortega said. “But I have changed so much since my freshman year. I used to be the girl that sat in the back of the classroom and never participated. I didn’t care.”
When her mother left, Ortega’s older sister, Cynthia Perez, was a senior in high school with college plans. However, Perez decided to stay and help her family.
She pushed Ortega and Ortega’s twin sister, Natalie, to go to college. Natalie Ortega has been accepted to Colorado State University. They will be first generation college students.
“I wanted them to be able to turn a negative situation into a positive one,” Perez said. “I didn’t want our situation to be a reason they could not push and reach for their goals.”
With her sister’s encouragement, Ortega re-invested in school and extracurricular activities. She is the senior class president, captain of her dance team, and she will deliver a speech at graduation. Her hard work has paid off.
Community Scholars Director of Admission Victoria Herrera says it was Ortega’s determination that earned her the scholarship.
“She had so much going on, but she picked herself up and remained strong,” Herrera said. “More than anything, Vanessa has shown herself and I think that is what made her stand out.”
Herrera and Timeka Gordon, the Community Scholars Program Director, surprised Ortega and five other South Hills high school students with their scholarships on April 7. They were told to report to the principal’s office. They entered a room filled with purple balloons, gift sacks, a TCU sign and a contract to be a Community Scholar.
Ortega cried as she tightly embraced Herrera and Gordon.
“I can’t thank them enough for believing in me,” Ortega said. “I still can’t believe that I will be here at TCU.”
Ortega said when she called home to share the news her family screamed so loudly that she could not finish her sentence.
Ortega is focusing on her last weeks of high school, graduation, and how she will celebrate it with her family.
“It is all really exciting, but I am happy because everyone in my family is happy,” Ortega said.
The relationship with her mother is slowly repairing. Ortega says she will celebrate her high school graduation with her mom.
“I still talk to her but not as much as I would like to,” Ortega said. “I understand why she left, and I have really grown and learned a lot since it happened.”
As the school year draws to a close, Ortega will spend her summer preparing to be a Horned Frog. She intends to major in nursing and pursue a career as an anesthesiologist.
“I am so grateful for this opportunity,” Ortega said. “This is what I’ve been waiting for—the chance to start over and prove myself again.”