McDonald’s HACER National Scholarship Series, Featuring Melanie Reyes

Melanie Reyes HACER McDonalds Scholarship

In elementary school, we fantasized with the idea of what we will be when we grow up. Having no clue of what exactly the universe had for us, or the amount of effort needed we probably said we will be an astronaut, a police officer, firefighter, pilot, ballerina, teacher, actor or even a doctor. By the time high school is literally killing our backs with heavy trigonometry books, we have more understanding or even a clear idea of what career we might pursue or which colleges we are looking forward to apply.

We hit reality by our senior year of secondary education and while we are receiving our college acceptance letter; we need to think about how we will pay for it. As reported by Forbes, the 2019 loan debt statistics show that collectively, students owe $1.5 trillion in the U.S. alone. 

High school grads living in low-income families are much less prepared for college and often drop out or simply don’t attend any educational institution. With so many great students in the same circumstances out there and willing to seek an academic degree, McDonald’s is paving the way to higher education for even more Hispanic students with the recently expanded McDonald’s Hacer® National Scholarship. Hacer stands for Hispanic American Commitment to Educational Resources, but it also mean “to do” in Spanish. The expansion of this scholarship from five to 30 winners last year is giving more students the opportunity to reach their higher education goals. By expanding the scholarship, McDonald’s is able to build even more new opportunities for growth and educational attainment within the Hispanic community. Scholarship recipients will receive up to $100,000 to help finance their tuition. This year’s recipients were selected based on their academic achievement, community involvement, and financial need. 

This time Melanie Reyes is one of this years recipients. Born in the Bronx, New York, to Ecuadorian parents, Reyes is one of four kids dreaming big and doing whatever is ethically possible to make it big. Living in a family oriented household, for her, gatherings and movie nights with her twin sister Stephanie, her older brother, Anthony, parents and the rest of her siblings is a sacred way to bond and create memories.

Sacrificing their own personal goals, Mr. and Mrs. Reyes immigrated to the country from Manta, Ecuador, and always instilled the importance of education into her and her siblings. To honor her parents’ sacrifice, Melanie Reyes and her siblings strived for academic excellence. 

BELatina contacted Reyes through McDonald’s and we learned more about her experience and her plans for the future. 

How did you learn about McDonald’s HACER National Scholarship?

I heard about the scholarship through a cousin who shared the McDonald’s HACER National Scholarship Facebook page. I first learned about the scholarship when I was a junior in high school. I made sure to apply when I finally became a senior.

During the time you applied for the scholarship, you were dealing with certain situations and financial issues. What thoughts came to mind when you applied for the scholarship?

I was thinking about how expensive of a school New York University (NYU) is for all four years. I also have a twin who is attending college, so for me, it meant double the cost for my parents and family. I was scared about what it could mean for all of us financially. It would mean more sacrifices from my parents. I wasn’t sure if I should choose NYU. It was difficult thinking about how the money would be what stopped me from going to my dream school and not academics. 

Truthfully, I was just wishing with everything I had that I would win. I remember even believing I did not stand a chance against other applicants but chose to apply any way. I am glad I did.

The essay you wrote worked! How much time did you dedicate writing it?

I spent two days working on my responses for the scholarship application. Although it was not one long essay, there were a lot of short responses, which I knew were important. My responses were the only  way the judges were going to find out about my personality and how much I cared.

Since your dad was top of his class, did you see him as a role model? Why?

I always looked at my parents as role models. However, it was not because my dad was top of his class. I learned about my dad’s academic achievements when I was in high school. I just thought it  was an interesting fact. It was their strength and adversity. For more than 30 years, my dad worked as a welder and I saw his strength through every small burn on his arms. I saw his adversity when he worked sometimes 12 hour shifts even to the age of 60+. 

He especially became a role model when he would wake up at 3 a.m. every Sunday to leave from Pennsylvania to work in New York City. He always spent the weekends in Pennsylvania to be with his wife and daughters. And when he was in Pennsylvania, he didn’t always relax. He worked more by doing little projects like making benches for me to sit on or making goal posts for me and my siblings to play soccer. 

My mom too. She used to commute to New York City to work. And though she worked weekdays, she always found time in the evening to meet my needs. Picking me up, dropping me off somewhere, feeding me- just taking care of me. For twelve years she did it without my father by her side, and she never let me down, even though she was exhausted. But I know to this day they will admit they stand by their decision to move to Pennsylvania because we had a good childhood. 

What did your parents say when you received the email notifying you were a scholarship recipient?

This requires some backstory. About a week before I learned I won the scholarship, my father had a stroke. My entire family was with him in the hospital during the weekend. But even though my dad was in a hospital bed, he told me to go back to Pennsylvania for school Sunday night. So my twin sister and I went home alone that night without my parents and without my two older brothers. I admit even now I was so sad and devastated. We arrived to Pennsylvania at practically 11 p.m. 

We did our homework and knocked out at 3 a.m.That Monday at school I was a zombie. Not just because I was tired but because I could not stop thinking about my dad in the hospital. He was also negative at times too. I remember him worrying about how he cannot work and how is he supposed to now focus on selling our Pennsylvania house, moving to the Bronx NY, and of course tuition for his two daughters. Sometimes I think all this stress from the move and college could have been what led him to have a stroke.

I remember getting home and still being upset. My sister and I were arriving to an empty house. I went upstairs to my room and then I checked my email. I opened the email and I read it and read it again. Then I fell to my bedroom floor sobbing. I was truly sobbing and my sister came in the room and I told her I won the $100,000 scholarship. She got on the floor with me and hugged me and we cried some more.

That wasn’t even the best moment. It was getting to call my parents who were in a hospital room a state away to tell them the news. We all cried. My sister had also won a scholarship earlier the same day that really helps the family as well. We got to lift a weight off our father’s back. I cannot describe what this scholarship did for my present and future. Also my family’s well-being, my father’s health and my family’s happiness.

What are you going to study? Why did you choose your career? 

I am in a Liberal Studies Core Program at New York University (NYU). I hope to study International Relations because I really care about helping people not just in my community but others. Especially communities outside the U.S. that might not have the ability to help themselves. For example, Ecuador was hit with a terrible earthquake in 2016, and when I visited, it was an experience that helped me realize I wanted to be a person who aided in bad situations. 

Where are you going to study? Why did you choose that specific college?

I chose NYU because it is an amazing school. It is the most diverse university and I am glad to be in an environment like that. They have the best study abroad opportunities as well.

What are your plans for the future?

I hope to graduate from NYU and perhaps go to graduate school. My long term plan is to work for an agency that aids other countries- real hands-on work. I truly want to make at least a small difference in other parts of the world people forget to think about.

Please send a message to all the Latinx community living in the US that wants to have a promising future like you.   

I know I am not the only member of the Latinx community who has a dream. I know I am not the only member of the Latinx community who needs help to achieve it. Our culture has helped us become the people we are today- amazing and unique people. So apply to the McDonald’s HACER National Scholarship and give this scholarship the opportunity to celebrate  you for being you. 

The scholarship application period opens October 7, 2019 and runs through Feb 5, 2020. The McDonald’s Hacer® National Scholarship was established in 2008, and since then, the program has awarded nearly $5 million financial assistance to 46 students across the country.