I met Ivon about a year ago. She was in my husband's mock trial class. He invited me to come watch the trials. He had a group of students that he was very proud of and he thought I'd enjoy it. I took the morning off and went to watch.
My husband was right to be proud. Two of the students caught my attention- Ivon and Christian. The other students were good, but they both stood out in my mind. I had met Christian earlier (he is now a student at Penn in the very selective Huntsman program), but Ivon I had only known from the stories my husband shared. At break, I asked him "Who is that sassy girl? I love her-- she's one smart cookie." He replied- "That's Ivon- that's the one I told you about. She's one of our valedictorians. Isn't she great?"
She was absolutely fantastic- well spoken, professional beyond her years. Clearly a bright future lay before her.
Over the summer, before she headed off to college- University of Nevada-Reno, where she received the millenium scholarship-- she babysat for us. She was already working full-time at McDonald's. She came over after her day shift ended to babysit. The kids loved her immediately. My daughter especially. They shared a joint love of Hello Kitty.
When we showed Ivon around, we were hanging out in my daughter's room. She looked around and seemed very wide eyed. She said she wished she had a room like that. I said "When you were little?" And she replied, "No now. I love this..." My daughter's room is bright and sunny and full of flowers-- much like her personality and much like Ivon's.
It wasn't until later that I learned that Ivon had been homeless during her junior year. The home they had was in an area of town referred to as The Naked City. Not exactly the environment where valedictorians are typically found.
This fall Ivon and I become Facebook friends. She entered a few online scholarship contests and I always made sure my friends voted for her and knew what a fantastic, hard working young woman she is. She became a finalist for the K-Mart Latina Scholarship.
Then something amazing happened to Ivon.
She entered the Dr. Pepper scholarship contest.
She made the final rounds.
She won $2,500 for her video and the chance to throw footballs into a giant Dr. Pepper can during the SEC Championship game half-time show.
So she did what only Ivon would do-- she worked with the UNR quarterback and had an engineering student help her develop her technique. She was a drama nerd- an English major-- she had never thrown a football in her life. She came up with a plan.
For the time leading up to the final rounds, she practiced. A lot.
She made the next round. The Friday before the game, she needed to finish in the top 2 of the 10 finalists. She did. She would get to be one of the students to compete in the half-time contest and she was guaranteed a minimum of another $23,000 of scholarship money. She was excited to have made it that far.
And here's where a great story gets even better.
She won $100,000 in scholarship money that she has 25 years to use. More than enough money and time to pay for her undergraduate studies and her dream of law school.
And so on national television, Ivon broke down. If you knew her, you knew that in that moment, all her hard work- not just in the week before throwing the football- but ALL her hard work- finally paid off.
Her comment "Dr. Pepper you are the best thing to ever happen to me" made the internet rounds. Her tears were mocked. Some people even made fun of her "over the top" reaction and said it was planted by Dr. Pepper for marketing.
I'm here to tell you, it wasn't. Dr. Pepper did change her life. In that 30 seconds, what was once a far-fetched dream of a young girl in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country became a reality.
In a world of cynics and naysayers, Ivon's win was a welcome reminder that truly in this life, anything is possible. She could have easily given up, walked away and kept her job at McDonald's. She didn't. She found some opportunities, came up with a plan and did the work. This wasn't luck. This was tenacity.
Congratulations, Ivon. I hope that this is only the beginning of the wonderful accomplishments in your future. You truly deserve it!