The following article originally appeared in The Morning Call.
Lexi Vega always wanted to attend college.
But as the daughter of a single mother who lost her job last year and with one sister in college at Boston University, she knew it was going to be financially difficult for her to reach her dreams.
But on Monday morning, Lexi, a Liberty High School senior, was told to go see her guidance counselor, who then led her to a reception room decorated with balloons.
Inside were Lexi's mother, grandmother and little brother, along with Superintendent Joseph Roy and Moravian College President Bryon Grigsby and other administrators.
In that moment, Lexi, an honors and AP student, realized she had won a full scholarship to Moravian.
Lexi put her hands up to her face in shock as the room broke out in applause.
"This cannot be happening," she recalled thinking. "This can't be real."
ADDISON GEORGE | SPECIAL TO THE MORNING CALL
For the second year in a row, Moravian College awarded two Bethlehem Area School District students full scholarships, minus room and board. Freedom High School senior Gabriella Greenhoward learned earlier in the day she also won a Moravian scholarship.
Gabriella's family has also faced hardships. They moved to Bethlehem from Rockaway Beach, N.Y., after losing their home to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Gabriella's mother, Yadira Diaz, said.
Even during tough times, Gabriella has worked hard in school, sometimes studying until 4 a.m., Diaz said. When Gabriella realized she won a full scholarship, she was in shock, Diaz said.
"She jerked like she couldn't believe it," Diaz said. "I was just wanting to give her a hug. This is proof that hard work does get noticed."
Lexi applied for early admission to Moravian, where tuition is more than $38,000 a year without room and board.
She received some scholarships and financial aid, but it still wasn't enough to cover the full bill. Through tears, Lexi said she applied for the Superintendent's Scholarship so she could "try really hard" to make sure her mom wasn't burdened with paying for college.
"I'm really trying hard not to cry," Lexi said after being presented with a framed certificate. "We're just getting back on our feet, and my mom won't have to worry about paying my tuition."
The Superintendent's Scholarship was the brainchild of Grigsby, who was looking for a way to give back to the community. Between Freedom and Liberty, 50 students applied for the Superintendent's Scholarship this year. The two winners are chosen by Roy. Last year, Destiny Rivera and Alejandra Lara won the scholarships. Both are still enrolled at Moravian.
Last week, Lexi's mother, Liz Rivera, received a phone call to attend a reception at Liberty for Lexi. She thought maybe Lexi won the Superintendent's Scholarship. But not wanting to get her hopes up, Rivera pushed it out of her mind.
Rivera lost her job as a slots performance supervisor at Sands Casino last year. She just recently got a new job at Mount Airy Casino in Monroe County, but the past year has been tough for the mother of three children. Her oldest daughter, a junior at Boston University, received scholarships, but also took out loans to attend.
"It means a lot that [Lexi] got this scholarship," Rivera said. "Financially, we've been in a real tight spot. It takes a big pressure off."
Rivera and her mother, Olga Diaz, a recently retired ESOL teacher, always pushed reading and education onto Lexi and her siblings. Lexi plans to study business at Moravian and plans to have a career in marketing.
Now that Lexi won the scholarship, they can breath a sigh of relief.
"We wanted her to go to college," Rivera said. "We just didn't know how we were going to pay for it."