Mikayla Sanchez said she was walking to a park in Madrid, Spain when she found out that she was a finalist for the Saint Oscar A. Romero Scholarship Award. After flying back to Boston less than a month later for the award ceremony, she was announced the winner.
“I got the email, and I just stopped,” Sanchez, MCAS ’23, said. “I was so happy, and I told my parents. … I was so, so, so surprised to be a finalist and even more surprised to be the winner.”
The daughter of immigrant parents from Colombia and the Dominican Republic, Sanchez grew up in Berkeley Heights, N.J., a predominantly white town in central New Jersey. Sanchez said growing up she knew she was different from her classmates because of her appearance and culture, but it was not something that she discussed with others.
“I think from a young age, I knew I was a little bit different,” Sanchez said. “It wasn’t something that I embraced too much. It wasn’t something that I could relate to with my friends at school, and even other people of color, we didn’t really talk about it too much because I think we were all just trying to assimilate into the culture and not try to be different or anything like that.”
Sanchez said the feeling she experienced when she first stepped on campus drew her to Boston College, along with the sports scene, academics, school spirit, and the opportunity to start fresh.
When she came to visit campus on accepted students day, Sanchez recalled seeing several student organizations, such as UGBC and the Organization of Latin American Affairs (OLAA), at tables, and the openness of the students at those tables to engage with her as a future Eagle had a strong impact on her.
“I remember talking to a couple of people at those tables, and they were students, and they gave me their phone numbers, told me to text them,” Sanchez said. “And I thought that like the personability and personalization of the students and how they were so willing to give me their phone numbers and talk to me … without being told to do so, I thought it was something very special.”
While at BC, Sanchez really began to think about her own identity, she said. During her sophomore year, she joined OLAA, where she served as the director of external affairs. Before going abroad, she served as the director of social and political action, and next semester when she returns to campus, she is going to serve as the vice president of the organization.
Sanchez is also involved in the Student Admission Program (SAP), where she was the head of the Eagle for a Day program. Additionally, she served as an orientation leader last summer and is going to be the orientation leader coordinator this upcoming summer. In addition to her on-campus extracurriculars, Sanchez also worked as an undergraduate researcher in the sociology department with Rev. Gustavo Morello, S.J., where she helped with research on tattoos and their meanings.
“You can sense a sense of leadership [in her],” Morello said. “I think she is a hard worker, she is very bright. I think she is one of the brightest students I’ve ever had in Argentina or here, so in 25 years of teaching, she is outstanding.”
Sanchez has fostered her commitment to community service for the Hispanic/Latino community through both her work in the United States Attorneys’ Office as an intern and through Berkeley Heights Unfiltered (BHU). Sanchez and other alumni of color from her high school founded BHU in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and the organization works to write informative articles about various topics, such as DACA and the importance of immigrants in the U.S. Her work, both on and off campus, alongside her academic achievements helped Sanchez win the 2022 Romero Scholarship, she said.
“Just having my name anywhere associated with Oscar Romero is just such a privilege and honor,” Sanchez said. “He, in my head, is on such a pedestal for giving back to the community, giving a voice to the voiceless like I strive to.”
The Romero Scholarship committee organized the scholarship in 1992 in memory of Archbishop Oscar A. Romero, who was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating mass in El Salvador. This annual scholarship is awarded to a junior who has demonstrated superior academic achievement, extracurricular leadership, community service, and involvement with the Hispanic/Latino community and Hispanic/Latino issues both on and off campus, according to the scholarship’s website.
The scholarship awards the recipient up to $25,000 toward their senior year tuition. All of the other finalists receive up to $3,000 in scholarship, and both the winner and all finalists receive a $1,000 gift certificate to the BC bookstore.
Sanchez said she first heard about the scholarship from Monetta Edwards, the adviser of the Jenks Leadership program and the Winston Ambassador program, when she was a freshman.
“I was involved in Jenks, and I was involved in some leadership things like starting to begin my journey, so she definitely pushed me in the direction to apply my junior year,” Sanchez said.
Outside of the encouragement from Edwards and her adviser, associate sociology professor Eve Spangler, Sanchez said witnessing Monica Sanchez, BC ’21, and Daniela Vazquez Loriga, MCAS ’22, win the scholarship in previous years inspired her to apply, as she worked with both of them in OLAA.
“People who I looked up to had won it two years in a row,” Sanchez said. “I had gone to all of the ceremonies there on Zoom, unfortunately—this is the first one in person for the last couple of years. But yeah, it was really nice to look up to them to learn more about Oscar Romero’s story.”
Sanchez said she submitted the first phase of the application in January of this year, which consisted of a form about herself that included her major, her top two extracurricular activities, and any awards she had won.
The second phase of the application process, Sanchez said, included an essay about her ties to Oscar Romero’s life, an interview with the scholarship committee, and at least one letter of recommendation.
Sanchez, who is currently studying abroad in Madrid, Spain, said that she had to do her interview over Zoom.
On Feb. 28, Sanchez said she received the news that she had been named a finalist for the scholarship, alongside Maribel Andrade, MCAS ’23, and Alberto Juarez, LSEHD ’23. Sanchez flew back to Boston for the scholarship award ceremony, which took place on March 26.
Sanchez said the moments leading up to the announcement of the scholarship winner were anxiety-inducing, as each finalist for the scholarship was so impressive.
“The other finalists, they do so much for the school,” Sanchez said. “And I know Alberto from the Organization of Latin American Affairs, he’s like an angel. … And then Maribel is the other finalist, and I knew her through orientation. … And I’m just so impressed by both of them that I just kind of felt miniscule sitting next to them.”
The moment University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., announced Sanchez as the scholarship winner immediately elicited an emotional response from her and her family, she said
“I didn’t get to take a breath right before he said it, so … a lot of emotions came over me,” Sanchez said. “So as soon as he read it—my family’s very emotional—so we were just trying not to cry too much because I knew I had to do my speech, but my parents [were] crying, so I had to pull it together really fast,”
Bianca Lopez, MCAS ’22 and co-president of OLAA, said she teared up when Leahy announced Sanchez had won the scholarship.
“I was extremely excited, I did tear up a little bit because I was so grateful to see … what she had accomplished, and then this was like a recognition of that accomplishment,” Lopez said.
Lopez, who knew of Sanchez through a mutual class and working together on the same research team, got to know her personally when Sanchez joined the OLAA executive board her freshman year.
“She is such a caring person, and … she will support everybody in what they’re doing,” Lopez said. “And she just wants to be there for others, and she’s extremely helpful.”
Looking forward, Sanchez hopes to continue her work of advocating for marginalized communities by becoming a defense attorney or immigration lawyer in the future. To Sanchez, winning the Romero Scholarship is another step on her journey to advocating for marginalized communities and giving a voice to the voiceless, she said.
“It’s surreal,” Sanchez said. “I think for my family it’s kind of like the bridge to starting our … generous generational growth. … So, I think it’s not only just about me, but about my family and making progress and saying like, ‘We’re Latinos, we’re immigrants, and we can do this,’ you know, just like I’m a second generation, first generation–born American, second-generation college student in my family, and I think that it’s just so so special to be recognized for such an amazing honor at such an amazing school.”
Featured Graphic by Annie Corrigan / Heights Editor