When she talks about her future, Thalia Dominguez glows with excitement.
The recent Mount Vernon High School graduate is about to embark on a college journey that when she was younger she would have never thought possible.
“I’m still in disbelief,” said the 18-year-old Dominguez, who moved to the United States from Mexico as a child.
This fall, Dominguez will head to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire — on an almost full scholarship.
For Dominguez, that means nearly $70,000 a year in tuition.
“What Thalia has done is unprecedented on a lot of different levels,” said Janice Blackmore, the Mount Vernon School District’s migrant graduation specialist. “I’ve never had a migrant student do anything even remotely close to this.”
Dominguez originally applied to a program called QuestBridge, which helps low-income students land scholarships.
Taking part in that process is how she thought of applying to Dartmouth.
Though she had watched another student go through the same process the year before, that student didn’t meet with the same success, she said.
“I didn’t think I’d become a finalist,” she said.
Growing up, Dominguez said, she didn’t think going to college — especially at an Ivy League school — would be possible.
The youngest of three children, Dominguez’s parents brought her to the United States when she was young, and they worked multiple jobs to support her.
“As I grew older, I realized everything they were doing was so I could get an education,” she said.
When Dominguez was in middle school, she joined the Migrant Youth Leaders Club, which is where she realized college was a possibility — if she worked hard.
“I knew I had to push myself,” she said. “I didn’t really know what it would take to get into college. I just decided to try everything.”
As an undocumented student — one brought into the country illegally — Dominguez had other challenges in front of her.
“Undocumented students have so many obstacles in front of them, and it’s so easy for them to give up hope,” Blackmore said. “They don’t have access to financial aid. Even community college can be too much money for them.”
Especially in today’s political climate, Dominguez said, she wants to prove undocumented students are hardworking, and that they can be successful, too.
“I want to dispel that stereotype,” she said. “It’s really heartbreaking.”
Dominguez is the first in her family to graduate from high school, and will be the first to attend college, she said.
That makes her acceptance to Dartmouth all the more special.
“I want to inspire other undocumented people,” she said. “I want to inspire the younger kids to keep going in their education, and hopefully the older kids to come back.”
Because of her father’s health issues, Dominguez said she wants to study medicine.
“I always felt helpless around that,” she said. “I didn’t like that feeling, so I wanted to do something.”
Blackmore, who has known Dominguez since Dominguez was in middle school, has no doubt she’ll be successful.
“She works harder than any kid I’ve ever met,” Blackmore said. “She has hope where most kids in her situation would lose hope. I think that’s a huge reason as to why she’s successful.”