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A College Scholarship Is More than Just Money

Giving News

By Eduardo Belalcazar

For Texans struggling to pay for college, a scholarship can make all the difference. But sometimes a scholarship is about more than money — it’s a statement that others believe in you. I should know. I lived it.

Who would have thought that the youngest of seven in a family of delinquents and high school dropouts, living in poverty in South Park, one of the most underserved neighborhoods in Houston, would receive a full scholarship for a world-class education? But here I am, a senior at The University of Texas at Austin.

For that reason, scholarships are dear to my heart. I know my time studying abroad — also with the help of scholarships — has helped prepare me for my future career with an international human rights organization. I have learned to live different ways of life, speak new tongues, and in the process become a better researcher. I have traveled to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Brazil thanks to the support of nonprofit organizations.

But none of my accomplishments on the Forty Acres, not to mention in Central and South America, would have been possible without the financial support and constant reminders from countless people that I deserved more. It was the generosity and kindness of others that forced me to start believing in myself.

Eduardo Belalcazar

Scholarships have made it possible for Eduardo Belalcazar to excel both at UT and abroad. The international relations and global studies major was able to spend a semester each in Nicaragua and Brazil.

I want to share that hope and confidence with future generations of students, and I think more people need to step up to support scholarships — especially at public institutions.

Lots of Texans are in my boat, facing financial hardships and hurdles to attending college. In fact, more than 827,000 students attending higher education institutions in Texas in 2010 needed some sort of financial aid, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. That’s 61 percent of all students enrolled at public and independent nonprofit colleges and universities.

As recently as the 1980s, the state of Texas provided nearly half of UT Austin’s budget. Now, with state support funding only 12 percent, one area where that difference is made up is in increased tuition and fees. It’s hard to argue the value of higher education, but with college becoming an ever more expensive endeavor, philanthropic support is instrumental in creating opportunities for students like me to pursue their dreams.

I can’t fund an entire scholarship right now, but I can let students know that I believe in them. My small contribution to UT’s annual 40 Hours for the Forty Acres campaign, for instance, makes a big impact when combined with others. There are many such opportunities for Texans to pay it forward.

These contributions can change lives — and again, I speak from experience. Just as I was helped by people who don’t know me personally but want to see me succeed, I started an online campaign to help my host sister in rural Nicaragua attend college. Public universities there are tuition free, but Reyna’s family can’t afford the transportation, supplies, or other expenses she will encounter in pursuit of her education. All she needs to cover five years of college is $2,500, and we’re closing in on that goal. What starts here changes the world.

As far back as I can remember, it has been the adversity I’ve had to face that has allowed me to reach for a better future. As a person of color and the son of immigrants, I have had days when I felt out of place and undeserving. That is an unfortunate side effect in a society that tells us our differences are weaknesses. Then there are days when there are no words to describe how grateful I am. I was the first in my family to graduate from high school and am also the first to attend college.

The amazing thing about attending a top-tier university like UT is that it encourages all voices to be heard. Scholarships made it possible for my voice to be heard. I am grateful that someone believed in me so much that I was able to accomplish more than I thought possible. Now it’s my turn to believe in someone else.

Belalcazar, of Houston, is a senior in international relations and global studies. A version of this column originally appeared in the April 9, 2015, edition of the Houston Chronicle.

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