But the 17-year-old was hesitant to apply for the full four-year scholarship offered by the Bethlehem Area School District and Moravian, her mother Gladys Cruz said. Bennett did not think she'd win, but Cruz encouraged her to have faith in herself.
"If you want a future, you've got to try," her mother told her.
Even as Bennett's achievements were celebrated during a Tuesday ceremony at Liberty, it had not quite sunk in for mother or daughter that Bennett is the 2018 recipient of the superintendent's scholarship.
Earlier in the morning, Freedom High School senior Jaequan Swint, flanked by his mother, was awarded the superintendent's scholarship in a ceremony at Freedom.
This marks the third year that Moravian and the district have partnered to select one senior from each high school to receive a full-ride to Moravian.
For Swint, the scholarship puts his first choice college -- Moravian -- within reach financially after his original financial aid package from the school took it off the table.
"I'm excited to be a Greyhound," Swint, who was an offensive tackle for the Patriots and plans to play football at Moravian, said.
The South Bethlehem resident has attended district schools since kindergarten, but once he started high school he wondered if he could go to college.
"I knew I could have the grades, but just affording it," Swint explained.
Three years ago, Moravian College President Bryon Grigsby suggested the scholarship as a way of deepening the bond between the higher ed institution and the school district and Superintendent Joseph Roy enthusiastically agreed.
Grigsby called education a great equalizer and said the college is honored to invest in its hometown with the scholarship.
"It can radically change lives," he said.
Any Liberty or Freedom senior can apply for the scholarship -- about 60 did this year -- and then high school guidance counselors work to whittle down the applicant pool. Roy and Alyson Remsing, assistant director of admissions for Moravian, then selected the winners from that smaller pool.
All of the recipients have compelling life stories in which they overcome obstacles, Roy said. These students have also made their mark in the classroom, in activities and on the field, the superintendent said.
Without the scholarship, the students may not have had an opportunity to attend a school like Moravian, he said.
"This is the launching point to great things," Roy said during Tuesday's ceremony at Freedom.
Swint's essay focused on one of his great inspirations: his grandfather, who has been honored by the NAACP for opening one of the first African American-owned businesses in Easton post-World War II, Roy said. Swint has proven himself both academically and in extracurriculars, the superintendent said.
"He is so well-rounded," said Seli Oquendo, Swint's guidance counselor at Freedom. "He's resourceful. He's resilient. He was going to do this no matter what. He relies on the wisdom of those who came before him and he gleaned everything he could in order to set up the best future for himself as possible."
Swint plans to major in business at Moravian and he's happy the school will keep him close to home and his younger siblings, who are one-and-a-half and 7-years-old.
Bennett is the baby of her family, the youngest of five kids being raised by a single mom, who is disabled. Her brother Benjamin, a U.S. Marine, is so proud of her accomplishments after spending years pushing his sister to succeed, Cruz, her mother, said.
When she was 9, Bennett moved to the district from Massachusetts. In Bethlehem, she was introduced to instrumental music, her life's passion.
She started out playing the flute and moved on to the saxophone in middle school, which she now plays in Liberty's Grenadier Band. Bennett plans to study music therapy at Moravian, a place where she says she felt instantly at home.
Growing up the youngest of five children, Bennett learned the struggles of poverty. She chose to channel her energy into her education, seeing that as a ticket up the economic ladder.
"It is really a big relief to me," Bennett said of the scholarship. "All of my hard work and struggles throughout my life was worth it."
The students' stories show the real strength of public schools, Roy said. They're places where children of all backgrounds get to explore their interests and find their passions in a supportive atmosphere, he said.
Many of those supports were there Tuesday: both Swint and Bennett's teachers packed the ceremonies to celebrate them.
"When I found out (Bennett won), oh my God, I couldn't believe it," her mother said. "I thank God every day for the teachers and everybody that has supported her at Liberty these four years."
This story originally appeared on the Lehigh Valley Live website on March 13, 2018. To read it there, click here: Bethlehem students overcome obstacles to win full-ride to Moravian