Since 2005, Southwest Airlines, in conjunction with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), has awarded 1,700 complimentary roundtrip tickets to Latino college students with economic need who pursue higher education at least 200 miles away from home. Applications are currently being accepted for the “¡Lánzate! / Take Off!” Travel Award program. For more information and to apply, please visit HACU. Application deadline is May 13, 2016.Travel has been provided to 830 students since the program’s inception in 2005, including 2015 student recipient Gabriela Lopez who shared her powerful story in her application:
I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico on August 7, 2013 with two suitcases: one full of personal belongings and the other with an inflatable mattress. I left everything behind including my family. I had never lived away from home and that was the first day I would ever sleep away from my family. The night before I left Chicago, my mother begged me not to go. Telling her that I needed to leave to pursue graduate school was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. My biggest fear when I moved was that my younger sister—who was only one at the time—would forget who I was. Being more than 1,000 miles away from my family was harder than I ever imagined.
My first year of graduate school was absolutely horrible. I was unhappy living in this new city and for many nights I cried because I thought I made the wrong choice. I wasn’t able to fly home to spend Thanksgiving with my family and while I hoped I would enjoy this time with friends, I spent that entire weekend wishing that I were in Chicago. I fell behind on my schoolwork because I was so upset that I was spending my first holiday away from my family. Being so far from home, I often felt disconnected and unprepared because I had no one to guide me. As a first generation college student, there is a lot of “insider knowledge” that is handed down through parents or an older sibling, but that was not handed down to me. For this reason, looking forward to a calendar date when I get to see my family has bolstered my motivation to do better in school. Being away inspired me to mentor undergraduate students of color every semester so that I can tell them everything I wish someone had told me when I started college. Furthermore, one of the reasons I have still remained so motivated to pursue higher education is because I want my younger siblings to have a positive role model to show them that they can pursue higher education too.
My parents have never been able to visit me in New Mexico and I have been living here for almost two years. I will be graduating next year with a Master’s in Clinical Psychology and a minor in quantitative concentration. If I received these tickets, I would be able to give them to my parents so they can attend my graduation ceremony. My parents often seem unhappy with my choice to move away from home to pursue graduate school, but I know that they are proud of me for everything that I have accomplished and will accomplish in the future. I dream of having my parents watch me walk across the stage to be presented with a Ph.D. I have worked relentlessly on my master’s thesis and would love for my parents to be present when I am recognized for my hard work. Although I have faced many challenges to be able to pursue higher education, I am confident that I will finish graduate school and become the first “Dr. Lopez” in my family.
Since receiving this award, Gaby was able to spend this past Thanksgiving with her family. She particularly enjoyed the ease of being able to book arrival and departure dates that worked best with her school schedule without any financial limitations. She highly recommends this program to any student that lives far from the people they love and experiences financial barriers when planning a trip to visit them.