TODAY's Hoda Kotb surprised six low-income high school seniors with $20,000 college scholarships for each on Monday.
The recipients were selected by the Dell Scholars Program, which awards financial aid to students who have overcome many obstacles and personal challenges. What makes the program special is that it rewards grit, ambition and determination over test scores.
"They're going to go out there and they're going to change the world," Hoda predicted after giving the students the happy news.
Each year, the program, which was founded in 2004, awards 500 life-changing scholarships. This morning, TODAY with Hoda & Jenna viewers watched — and cried — as Hoda shared the good news with:
Nicole Torres: Torres is president of her school’s English honor society and founded an organization to help children express themselves. She is the first in her family to attend college and is deciding between University of Florida and Vanderbilt University.
Salih Abdullahi: Abdullahi coaches basketball and uses his voice to better his community.
"My dad, he had a stroke ... so my mom was like the breadwinner for the house,"Abdullahi revealed. "Don’t ever give up, that’s what my mom always taught me."
Miguel Torres: A first-generation college student, Torres was raised by his grandmother and makes volunteering a priority.
Anitta Gomez: Gomez is pursing her associates degree in addition to her high school workload, and aspires to give back to her community.
George Kootek: Kootek enjoys community service and has aspirations of becoming a software engineer.
Elizabeth Sanchez: Sanchez is a member of the US Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and dreams of becoming a child psychiatrist. "I want to have better than what we have right now, so being the first to go to college in my family is the first step in making that happen," Sanchez said.
Along with $20,000, winners receive a laptop, $2,000 in textbook book credits and personalized support including access to mental health services.
Over the past decade, college costs have risen by roughly 25% and U.S. student debt has more than doubled.