AURORA | It started with the mother of a friend in elementary school, a woman who could communicate with her hands in a mysterious and captivating way.
Nina De La Rosa felt an instant connection to American Sign Language, to the way that words and ideas flowed silently and smoothly with small gestures. Even though she didn’t have any family members who were deaf or partially deaf, the image of the woman who could speak without sound stuck with her.
“I was kind of shocked at how she was talking but she really wasn’t,” said De La Rosa, who graduated from Rangeview High School last month.
That fascination persisted through elementary and middle school, and continued through her four years at Rangeview. The subject even came up during the nerve-racking scholarship interviews with officials from cable company Comcast earlier this year. She had already won $1,000 from the company; when she spoke to a scholarship official in April, she was vying for an additional $9,000 in college funds.
“I didn’t even know that there was a second round after the first round … I just had to interview. I was pretty nervous, but I was trying to play it down,” De La Rosa said. “I pretty much kept it a secret. I tried not to think about it.”
A week after the interview, she found out she was one of two students in the state of Colorado who would receive the $10,000 scholarship as part of the company’s “Leaders and Achievers” program. In her original essay for the smaller sum, De La Rosa wrote about her time in the Link Crew, a Rangeview club that connects freshmen with upperclassmen for guidance and advice. She wrote and spoke about her other after-school activities, her participation in the school’s League of United Latin American Citizens club, her work in the counseling department and, of course, her time in the school’s Sign Language Club.
Still, De La Rosa insisted that she didn’t let herself celebrate early or get her hopes too high.
In May, De La Rosa celebrated the scholarship with Aurora City Council members and about 600 local education and business leaders at the Public Education and Business Coalition luncheon held in Denver. As an added perk, De La Rosa got a free laptop during the ceremony as part of the scholarship.
De La Rosa, who will attend the University of Colorado Boulder in the fall, already knows how she will spend the money. She’ll pursue a degree in hearing sciences, and her long-term plans are focused on becoming a speech therapist. She’ll study American Sign Language as part of her training.
The news came as a surprise for De La Rosa, who said the scholarship will help her parents deal with the cost of college for her and her twin brother, who will also head to Boulder in the fall to study film and computer science.
“I didn’t want my parents to pay for my college. I have a twin brother and it’s a lot of money to pay for two children,” said De La Rosa, adding that her counselor nominated her for the scholarship early in the 2011-12 school year. “I really wasn’t expecting anything big to come out of it.”
De La Rosa added that she hasn’t had too much time to dwell on the big changes that wait for her in the fall. Between the stress of graduating high school and May and working her first summer job in the months before classes in Boulder start, she’s had plenty to occupy to time. Still, the sizeable scholarship has helped her start plans for a new phase in her life.
“I’m mostly just excited to do something different,” she said.
Other local students who received $1,000 scholarships as part of the “Leaders and Achievers” program are as follows: Aisha Iqbal from Cherokee Trail High School; Leslye Magallon from Gateway High School; Tsion Shiferaw from Aurora Central High School; Yohana Tuquabo from Regis Jesuit High School; and Julie Woodworth from Smoky Hill High School.
Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at [email protected] or 720-449-9707