When the parents of Maria Vargas and Cynthia Castillo came to the U.S. from Mexico, they wanted a better life for their children.
The parents of the Pasco High School seniors did not achieve more than a grade-school education.
But they understood the importance of a college degree.
Now the women are receiving help from the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship. The five-year program provides low- and middle-income students up to $22,500 to pursue high-demand degrees.
Castillo, the child of migrant farm laborers, said her father initially came to the U.S. for seasonal work, and eventually brought her mother as well.
While her father started a trucking company, her mother kept working in the fields.
“They’ve been working their whole lives, just for my brothers, my sister and I. Just so we can get an education, and they motivated me to stay in school and do the best that I can,” she said.
Vargas, oldest of three children, said her mother provided her the encouragement through late nights of studying and years of hard work.
“She’s my rock. ... As I’ve grown up, she’s become my best friend. I can always go to her and talk to her whenever I’m stressed,” Vargas said. “She will tell me, ‘You can’t quit now. I know you can do this.’”
While the encouragement was there, the means of pursuing their dreams was not. They both said the scholarship will keep them out of debt while they follow their dreams.
“It took a weight off of my shoulders,” Vargas said. “I can see that all my hard work from all of these years has paid off — all of those late nights, all of those midnights crying.”
They are two of the 52 Pasco students receiving the scholarship. Nearly 100 throughout the Mid-Columbia region received a total of $2 million. While the scholarship only requires the student earn a 2.75 grade point average, Castillo is leaving high school with a 3.8 and Vargas with a 3.5.
Both of the women are looking to contribute to society with their degrees. After Castillo receives her associate degree from Columbia Basin College in mid-June, she plans on earning a civil engineering degree from WSU Tri-Cities.
Designing public structures makes her feel like she can stay connected to the community.
Vargas was inspired to pursue a career as a pediatric nurse after her sister was born with an illness that kept her in the hospital for several weeks.
Her family’s interaction with the nurses and other medical staff provided them hope, and she wants to give that back to the community.
Both are excited about moving on to the next challenge.
“My parents’ purpose for coming over here and working is for my siblings and I to get an education,” Castillo said. “I want to give them that satisfaction.”