This is one of two video profiles on students who received college scholarships from New Visions for Public Schools this year. Winners, who must attend high schools in the New Visions network, will receive up to $5,000 a year for all four years of college to pay for academic expenses. Read more about the nine other graduating seniors that New Visions honored.

Blanca Melendez used to hate school. Then she watched her sister, then a high school senior, win awards, graduate and go off to Sarah Lawrence College on nearly a full-ride scholarship.

“I was kind of like, what the heck am I doing?” Melendez said.

Four years since having that epiphany, Melendez graduated from the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology with an Advanced Regents diploma and top honors in English and Spanish. She has a full ride to Brown University and an internship at The New York Times book reviews section this summer.

Melendez said her proudest moment was at her school’s senior awards ceremony when she read out loud an essay that documented her personal struggles, which include enduring homelessness and taking care of her mother who has schizophrenia. She said she was nervous to share so much of herself with her teachers, peers, and their families, but it was worth it.

“All of a sudden, all I hear is enormous applause and there’s a standing ovation, and I see a lot of people crying,” she said. “To get through it, to let it out, was my proudest moment. I was able to survive these four years and all my life really, and it was like, the epitome of my life.”

“People came up to me afterward and said … ‘I think my kid can do great things now,'” she said. “It was exactly what I wanted. People were inspired.”