Local teen gets full ride scholarship through photography program

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A local high school student burst into tears when she learned she would be going to college debt free.

Last month, 15 students from Health Leadership High School were given cameras through ‘Pictures for Hope,’ a national program put on by Linda Solomon. It was the second time she’s brought the program to Albuquerque.

Partnered with Blackburn College, a private liberal arts college in Illinois, one of the 15 students learned Friday that she would be going to college at not cost to her.

One by one, the students revealed their favorite picture they took and what it meant to them, along with their hope in life.

One student, who photographed a car in a garage, said his dream is a open a mechanic shop. Another student photographed a colorful downtown Albuquerque fence, representing how we often guard ourselves.

The last student to present her photo was Iliana Esparza. The 17-year-old held up a photo of a homeless person in downtown Albuquerque.

“My hope is to make a change in my community,” she said. “This is what we see on a daily basis.”

There was a reason she was last. Alongside Solomon was Justin Norwood from the admissions department at Blackburn College.

Norwood then presented Esparza was the DREAM scholarship — $100,000, or a full ride, to Blackburn College.

Esparza broke down, crying.

“This was one thing that I’ve had my heart set on since I stepped foot in Health Leadership High School,” she said.

Her mom cried, too. She had Iliana at just 15 years old, and at one point received a scholarship herself.

“My choice was either go to college and take the scholarship or stay with my kids and I forfeited the school and the scholarship because I couldn’t leave them,” mom said.

She created a life for her daughter, hoping Iliana could one day follow her dreams.

“I had no idea that this photo would lead me here. My photo was just a dream that I want to see come true. Everyday we walk along the streets and we see people who have no places no go, who are struggling just to get by ,and that’s a change that I want to make in my community,” Iliana said.

It’s only fitting that Iliana wants to be a social worker one day. She’s already working toward that degree, with 33 credit hours from CNM and hundreds of hours of volunteering under her belt.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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