Mikayla Sanchez said she was going to a park in Madrid, Spain when she found out she was a finalist for the Saint Oscar A. Romero Scholarship. After returning to Boston less than a month later for the awards show, she was announced the winner.
“I got the email and just quit,” said Sanchez, MCAS ’23. “I was so happy and I told my parents. … I was so, so, so surprised to be a finalist and even more surprised to be the winner.
The daughter of immigrant parents from Colombia and the Dominican Republic, Sanchez grew up in Berkeley Heights, NJ, a predominantly white town in central New Jersey. Sanchez said growing up, she knew she was different from her classmates because of her looks and her culture, but it wasn’t something she discussed with others.
“I think from a very young age I knew I was a little bit different,” Sanchez said. “It wasn’t something I liked too much. It wasn’t something that I could relate to with my friends at school, and even with other people of color, we didn’t really talk about it too much because I think we were all just trying to assimilate into the culture and not try to be different or something like that.
Sanchez said the feeling she felt when she walked onto campus drew her to Boston College, as well as the sports scene, academics, school spirit and the opportunity to start afresh.
When she came to visit campus on Accepted Student Day, Sanchez recalled seeing several student organizations, such as UGBC and the Organization for Latin American Affairs (OLAA), at tables, and the openness for students at these tables to engage with her as a future Eagle had a strong impact on her.
“I remember talking to a few people at these tables, and they were college students, and they gave me their phone numbers, told me to text them,” Sanchez said. “And I thought like the personalities and personalization of the students and how they were so willing to give me their phone numbers and talk to me…without being told to, I thought it was something very special.”
While in British Columbia, Sanchez really started thinking about her own identity, she said. During her second year, she joined OLAA, where she held the position of Director of External Affairs. Before going overseas, she served as the director of social and political action, and next semester when she returns to campus, she will serve as vice president of the organization.
Sanchez is also involved with the Student Admissions Program (SAP), where she was the head of the Eagle for a Day program. In addition, she was responsible for orientation last summer and will be the orientation coordinator this summer. In addition to her extracurricular activities on campus, Sanchez also worked as an undergraduate researcher in the sociology department with the Reverend Gustavo Morello, SJ, where she assisted in research on tattoos and their meanings.
“You can feel a sense of leadership [in her]”, Morello said. “I think she’s a hard worker, she’s very bright. I think she is one of the brightest students I have ever had in Argentina or here, so in 25 years of teaching she is exceptional.
Sanchez furthered his commitment to community service for the Hispanic/Latino community through both his work at the United States Attorney’s Office as an intern and through Berkeley Heights Unfiltered (BHU). Sanchez and other alumni of color at his high school founded BHU in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, and the organization strives to write informative articles on various topics, such as DACA and the importance of immigrants. in the USA. Her work, both on and off campus, alongside her academic accomplishments helped Sanchez win the 2022 Romero Scholarship, she said.
“Just having my name associated with Oscar Romero is such a privilege and such an honor,” Sanchez said. “He, in my head, is on such a pedestal to give back to the community, to give a voice to the voiceless as I strive to do.”
The Romero Scholarship Committee organized the scholarship in 1992 in memory of Archbishop Oscar A. Romero, who was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass in El Salvador. This annual scholarship is awarded to a junior who has demonstrated superior academic achievement, extracurricular leadership, community service, and involvement with the Hispanic/Latino community and Hispanic/Latino issues on and off. campus, depending on the scholarship. website.
The scholarship awards the recipient up to $25,000 towards their final year tuition. All other finalists receive up to $3,000 in scholarships, and the winner and all finalists receive a $1,000 gift certificate to the BC Bookstore.
Sanchez said she first heard about the scholarship from Monetta Edwards, the Jenks Leadership Program and Winston Ambassador Program Advisor, when she was a freshman.
“I was involved with Jenks, and I was involved in some leadership things like starting my journey, so she definitely pushed me in the direction of applying my junior year,” Sanchez said.
Apart from encouragement from Edwards and his adviser, associate professor of sociology Eve Spangler, Sanchez said he witnessed Monique SanchezBC ’21, and Daniela Vazquez LorigaMCAS ’22, winning the scholarship from previous years prompted her to apply, as she worked with both of them at OLAA.
“People I looked up to had won it two years in a row,” Sanchez said. “I had been to all the ceremonies there on Zoom, unfortunately – it’s the first in person for two years. But yeah, it was really cool watching them to learn more about Oscar’s story Romero.
Sanchez said she submitted the first phase of the application in January this year, which consisted of a form about herself that included her major, her two main extracurricular activities and all the awards she had won.
The second phase of the application process, Sanchez said, included an essay about his ties to the life of Oscar Romero, an interview with the scholarship committee, and at least one letter of recommendation.
Sanchez, who is currently studying abroad in Madrid, Spain, said she had to do her interview on Zoom.
On Feb. 28, Sanchez said she learned she had been named a finalist for the scholarship, alongside Maribel Andrade, MCAS ’23, and Alberto Juarez, LSEHD ’23. Sanchez returned to Boston for the awards ceremony, which took place on March 26.
Sanchez said the moments leading up to the announcement of the scholarship winner were anxiety-provoking because each scholarship finalist was so impressive.
“The other finalists, they do so much for the school,” Sanchez said. “And I know Alberto from the Latin American Affairs Organization, he’s like an angel. … And then Maribel is the other finalist, and I knew her by orientation. …and I’m so impressed with both of them that I felt tiny sitting next to them.
The moment university president Reverend William P. Leahy, SJ, announced Sanchez as the scholarship recipient immediately elicited an emotional reaction from her and her family, she said. declared.
“I couldn’t breathe right before he said it, so…a lot of emotions came over me,” Sanchez said. “So as soon as he read it – my family is very emotional – so we were just trying not to cry too much because I knew I had to give my speech, but my parents [were] cry, so I had to pull myself together very quickly,”
Bianca Lopez, MCAS ’22 and co-chair of OLAA, said she cried when Leahy announced that Sanchez had won the scholarship.
“I was extremely excited, I cried a little bit because I was so grateful to see … what she had accomplished, and then it was like an acknowledgment of that accomplishment,” Lopez said.
Lopez, who knew Sanchez through a mutual class and working together on the same research team, got to know her personally when Sanchez joined OLAA’s board of directors her freshman year.
“She’s such a caring person and…she’ll support everyone in what they do,” Lopez said. “And she just wants to be there for other people, and she’s extremely helpful.”
Going forward, Sanchez hopes to continue his work advocating for marginalized communities by becoming a defense attorney or immigration attorney in the future. For Sanchez, winning the Romero Fellowship is another step in her journey to champion marginalized communities and give voice to the voiceless, she said.
“It’s surreal,” Sanchez said. “I think for my family it’s kind of like the bridge to start our… generous generational growth. … So I think it’s not just about me, it’s about my family and making progress and saying, ‘We’re Latinos, we’re immigrants, and we can do this,’ you know, just like I’m a second generation, first generation born American, second generation student in my family, and I think it’s so special to be recognized for such an incredible honor at such an incredible school.
Graphic presented by Annie Corrigan / Editor-in-Chief