GIBBON, Neb. -- There were cheers and tears, hugs, handshakes and smiles as four outstanding role models walked to the center of the Gibbon Public Schools gymnasium to receive their well-deserved recognition.

One by one, they sat at the table adorned in Loper blue and accepted a scholarship to attend the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Their friends, family members, classmates and teachers were all there to witness the life-changing moment.

“I’m just really proud of him and all the hard work he’s done,” Luis Simental said during Thursday’s signing ceremony. “It’s very important for me to see him follow his dreams and be happy in life.”

Simental was understandably emotional as he watched his son Eduardo receive a Diversity Service Scholarship that covers the full cost of tuition. Worth up to $30,000 over four years, the scholarship is awarded to students who demonstrate leadership and involvement in their school and community, especially work with diverse populations.

Eduardo is also receiving scholarships from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation and UNK Department of Chemistry, where he’ll be studying this fall.

“I’ve always wanted to get a college degree so I can have all of that knowledge and work in a field that I love,” he said. “Now, I can pursue higher education without worrying about it being a financial burden on my parents or myself.”

Alejandro Flores didn’t think college was a possibility for him until he received an email announcing his selection as a UNK scholar.

“I was the happiest person at school that day,” he said. “It honestly means a lot to me and my family. When I heard that my college was going to be basically paid for, it took a weight off my shoulders.”

Flores plans to study exercise science at UNK, where roughly 4 in 10 students come from families where neither parent earned a bachelor’s degree. As a first-generation student himself, he is both nervous and excited.

“This is something my family has never done. I’m going to be the first person taking this venture into college to hopefully get a better education and a better career,” Flores said. “I kind of wish I had a little bit more high school left, but I’m also ready to take the next step to see what the future brings for me.”

UNK Admissions and the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion are presenting scholarships to high school seniors across the state this spring. Ten future Lopers received the Diversity Service Scholarship and 10 more were awarded the Bilingual Service Scholarship, which provides up to $6,000 annually for students living in on-campus housing and pursuing a degree in a service field with a high need for bilingual professionals.

“We are so excited to welcome these students to UNK. They will be great additions to the incoming class of Lopers and we can’t wait to see what they accomplish during their time on campus,” said UNK Admissions Director Jodi Holt.

The scholarship recipients represent 16 communities, with UNK staff traveling to each one for a signing ceremony. These events started April 21 in Ashland and conclude Monday in Shelton, Ravenna and Minden.

“It is important to present these scholarships in person because we believe it’s a great way to show the recipients and their families that we are committed to them as students, the same way they are committed to us when they chose to attend UNK,” said Luis Olivas, interim director of the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion. “Our presence in their hometowns also strengthens the commitment UNK has with our communities as we help these young people achieve their fullest potential and become professionals we aim to retain in Nebraska.”

His favorite moments are when he gets to interact with people like Luis Simental and other proud family members.

“I always remind families that the two defining moments in their student’s journey at UNK are their presence at the scholarship signing and their presence when that student crosses the stage at commencement with their diploma in hand,” Olivas said.

UNK Diversity Service Scholarship Recipients:

  • Gibbon – Jesus Hernandez
  • Gibbon – Eduardo Simental
  • Gibbon – Alejandro Flores
  • Gretna – Noah Encarnation
  • Kearney – Israel Uma
  • Minden – Alexis Tira
  • Norfolk – Sarai Velazquez Jimenez
  • Ravenna – Marieane Cruz Velez
  • South Sioux City – Sayuli Lopez
  • Wood River – Mayte Meza Martinez

UNK Bilingual Service Scholarship Recipients:

  • Ashland – Erandy Morales Rodriguez
  • Gibbon – Hernan Vargas
  • Grand Island – Mariana Andazola
  • Lexington – Karla Herrarte
  • Miller – Briseida Flores Cardenas
  • North Platte – Isabel Vasquez
  • Schuyler – Kathryn Tzunux
  • Schuyler – Lizbeth Trejo
  • Shelton – Alia Gomez
  • Spalding – David Lozano