Convivencia Hispana hosted its fourth annual scholarship ceremony on Saturday, awarding nine students $350 each.

The candidates present for the ceremony were Nancy Sanchez, Noah Sykes, Renata Hernandez, and Carlos Solorzano. Also awarded were Estefania Velasquez, Noemi Castañeda, Karen Manriquez, Jovana and Johana Rodriguez.

The first-year college students attended the ceremony after their first semester for a panel discussion. Convivenca Hispana member Julio Zelaya led the panel, asking the students what they’ve enjoyed about college, their transition from high school, financial hardships, and how they could’ve prepared better.

St. James alumni Claudia Martinez was also present to share her transition from high school to Gustavus Adolphus College.

“It was amazing,” Matinez said. “I knew I wanted a smaller school where I felt I could stand out or make a name for myself.”

Nancy Sanchez related to how small schools have higher opportunities as she’s also at Gustavus. “I just joined student senate,” said Sanchez. “I didn’t think I could as a first-year. [I’m the] administrative director, and that’s pretty exciting for me.”

The students have also enjoyed college professors going out of their way to help, and the freedom to make their own decisions.

“It really makes a big impact on the way you look at things,” said Noah Sykes.

Martinez added not anticipating how much reading she’d be expected to complete within a night and participating in discussions while she was in school. The students felt similar to the college workload.

College education has forced the students to better practice their study skills to study weeks in advance and pass their courses. The closest they came to a college-level course in high school was their speech class.

“I didn’t study in high school,” said Carlos Solorzano. “In college, I have to.” When asked how studying looks for him now, he responded, “Just study and pray.”

Regarding financial hardships, some felt they could’ve saved more. For others, the difficulty has been learning the system.

“For me, my dad is older, so he doesn’t know, and my mom doesn’t know very much English,” said Renata Hernandez. “[Learing the system] was all on me.”

Hernandez has been able to navigate with some guidance from her older sisters, who also attended college, but attended different schools. The economic process hasn’t been entirely the same.

While scholarships are more commonly sent directly to college financial departments, Convivencia Hispana awards the money by check directly to the student at the ceremony.

“We do this because we know there are smaller necessities you may have like buying a book, a pair of shoes, a sweater, or something extra,” said Convivencia Hispana member Everardo Vargas.

The scholarship money comes from raffles and fundraisers. The organization wants the youth within the community to finish their education.

“We want to motivate your grand effort for wanting to continue studying,” said Convivenca Hispana member Marta Portillo to the students. “We would’ve wanted to do the same. You all have accomplished it. Long live the students!”