PASCO -- The tears ran freely at TRAC on Friday night -- tears of joy, that is.
Hundreds of proud Hispanic parents and their kids filled the large exposition hall for the 22nd annual Hispanic Academic Achievers Program.
The program encourages Hispanic students to succeed in school.
More than 3,000 students from grades 4-12 were honored for maintaining grade-point averages above 3.0.
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In his keynote address, Albert Torres, the publisher of the bilingual newspaper T Decides, told the students that the certificates they would receive showed they had heart, intelligence and passion.
"But you had that before you got here," Torres said. "We're just here to remind you that you have everything to succeed."
The main attraction of the evening was the college scholarships for 23 students. The program, which is entirely paid for by donations, this year gave out $41,000 in scholarships. Most students received $1,000 but a few got higher awards.
Among the first to be called was Sara Fletes, who is about to graduate from Pasco High. She came to Pasco with her mother, Angelica Fletes, seven years ago from Jalisco, Mexico.
Sara spoke no English then, but now she plans to make English her bread and butter -- she's headed to the University of Washington to study creative writing.
She developed her love for language after she came here and learned English in Pasco schools, she said.
A little later, Juan Diego Espinoza stepped onto the stage with his parents. He will graduate from Tri-Cities Prep High School, a private Catholic school in Pasco, and then go on to study accounting at Carroll College, a Catholic campus in Helena, Mont.
In his scholarship essay, Juan had written about being connected to his fellow students through his faith, he said.
Finally, Jesus Larios Murillo, his mother, Elizabeth, and his sister, Yesenia, climbed on stage. Apparently the Murillos hadn't known how much the top scholarship would help out with Jesus' college bills.
When the presenter announced that the prize was $8,000, the whole family erupted in tears. They were still crying after Jesus had posed with the other students for a group photo.
Jesus went from being an English language learner to taking advanced placement classes, loading up his schedule far beyond what's required to graduate.
He will study electrical engineering at Washington State University Tri-Cities, he said. But he also will minor in biology so he can keep the door open to going to medical school after he gets his bachelor's degree.
He couldn't stop crying while he told the Herald about his parents' support.
"They helped me so much," he said, wiping his eyes. "I'll continue to work as hard as I can."