When she walks across the stage at Baxter Arena on May 25, Ana Pérez-Villagómez will make history – the first in her immediate family to graduate from high school. You won’t be able to see it on her diploma, but there is a star by her name; a figurative designation, in the works since elementary school, that means success is not only possible, it is expected.
“When I was in third grade, I always wanted extra math homework,” Ana recalls. “The teacher said, ‘Ana, this doesn’t help your grade.’ And I said, ‘That’s okay, I still want it.’”
Ana only accelerated that above-and-beyond drive during her time at Omaha South Magnet High School. In addition to maintaining a solid GPA, she is president of the student council and a member of National Honor Society, the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Commission and Academic Decathlon. Add to that her dedicated College Possible participation, twice-a-week after school, every week throughout the school year.
“With College Possible, I realized that I didn’t know a lot about the college process – that there is more to it than just applying. You have to prepare yourself mentally for college,” Ana says.
Funded in part by a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska grant, College Possible is intent on making college admission and success possible for low-income students. Ana applied for and has been part of the program since her junior year, receiving support and steady guidance from her coach, Beth Kernaghan.
“During their junior year, we do a lot of ACT prep but also college knowledge, exploring different colleges and majors, learning what college is all about. Then senior year, we’re working on college and scholarship applications, continuing that college knowledge,” Beth explains.
Ana adds, “With College Possible, Beth has prepared me. When I needed recommendations or someone to proofread my essays or I just needed some advice, she was there.”
The fruit of everyone’s labor is reflected in a stream of college acceptances. The aspiring engineer is set to study at New York’s Barnard College in the fall. She also was accepted to Creighton University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Hastings College. While College Possible provided a key assist, Beth says Ana put in the work.
“Ana has a lot of self-motivation and finds these opportunities. She is driven to do all the hard work. I’m just there to help along the way,” Beth says.
Excited about the next chapter, Ana says it is also bittersweet. High school has been a collection of remarkable experiences. She visited the White House in January as one of only 17 members of the inaugural Student Advisory Board for Better Make Room, a Michelle Obama initiative to promote post-secondary education. She also spent seven weeks taking math and physics classes through Harvard University’s 2016 Secondary School summer program.
Then there are the people she will miss – people such as Beth with whom she has formed a special bond.
“I’m going to miss the ability to go to session” and share stories with Beth, says Ana, who will be paired with a new College Possible coach at Barnard.
Beth adds, “It’s definitely going to be weird not seeing Ana and everyone else all the time, but we’ll stay in touch and I’ll love to hear about what happens next year.”
If the past is any indication, the updates will be packed with involvement and accomplishment. The teen with the star by her name – a role model to her five younger siblings – is ready to make good on those high expectations.
“I’m just looking for the opportunities that I’ll have,” she says, “and how I can make them more than what they are.”
“Faces of Fearless” is a storytelling series in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s “Live Fearless” campaign celebrating people living their very best lives and inspiring others to do the same. In partnership with the Omaha World-Herald.