Jessica Franco, A&S ’15, who is studying economics, theology and international studies and is a mentor through the Learning To Serve program, won the 22nd Annual Archbishop Oscar A. Romero Scholarship Award on March 29. Franco, who was one of three finalists, won a scholarship of up to $25,000. All three finalists earned a scholarship of up to $3,000 as well as a $1,000 gift certificate to the Boston College bookstore. The other finalists were Francisco Bernard and Rosemary Concepcion, both A&S ’15.
The scholarship is named after Archbishop Oscar A. Romero, who spoke widely out about social injustice and poverty, and was assassinated in 1980 in El Salvador. The scholarship in his name recognizes a BC junior who has not only demonstrated excellence in leadership, service, and academics, but also has been involved with the Hispanic and Latino communities on and off campus, and qualifies for financial aid.
The scholarship started 22 years ago, in 1992, with a small committee and an award of just a few hundred dollars. Throughout the years, it has grown into the major event it is today.
Stephanie Valencia, BC ’04, presided over the event. Valencia, who won the award in 2003, is now the deputy chief of staff to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Though there is just one official winner, all three of the finalists have done impressive work, Valencia said.
“The bar really has gotten higher every single year,” she said. “It really is amazing to see the phenomenal work that the finalists have done over the course of their time at BC, and what they are going to do once they leave here.”
The event started with a buffet of traditional Hispanic food like rice and beans, ceviche, and pork shoulder, and ended with hours of dancing. In addition, Grupo Cultural Canaris, a traditional Ecuadorean dance group made up of children and adults, performed three separate times.
Speakers also included University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J.; Rev. Donald MacMillan, S.J.; Marcela Norton and Ines Maturana Sendoya, co-chairs of the Romero Committee; Milvia Sanchez and Monica Mendoza, co-chairs of the Selection Committee; Arivee Vargas, 2004 Romero Award recipient and BC ’05; Eva Maynard and Janelly Rodriguez, co-chairs of the Alumni Committee; and 2013 Romero Award recipient Jessica Vallejo, A&S ’14. In addition, Andy Petigny, associate director of AHANA, graduate advisor Chelsea Kott, and M. Brinton Lykes summarized the finalists’ accomplishments.
“Our world is a broken world-lots of unjust structures abound. Winning a scholarship that has Monsignor Romero’s name on it is an honor, ” MacMillan said. “You need to be an advocate-to be a voice for the voiceless, for the poor, for the sick, the immigrants, the homeless, the racial minorities. This is the message of the gospel-it is the message of Romero.”
Franco exemplifies Romero’s values through her work at the Center for Human Rights and International Justice’s Human Rights and Migration Project, Lykes said. Through this project, she has been able to provide workshops like “Know Your Rights” to immigrant families. Franco is also involved in the Learning To Serve Program, which helps freshmen adjust to BC life as it relates to racial and ethnic characteristics.
“I would like to claim that I found Jessica, but the truth is that Jessica found me in her first year,” Lykes said. “It has been a distinct privilege and honor to work with her over these past three years. She takes great pride in serving others and describes herself as a ‘woman for others.'”
The event is a celebration of each of the finalists and of their families, and of all of the hard work it took to reach this point, said Vallejo, who won the award last year. She addressed the audience in both Spanish and English, because many family members in attendance did not speak English, she noted.
“Perhaps the most important thing I have gained as a Romero recipient is a newfound source of motivation and inspiration,” Vallejo said. “As a Romero recipient I cannot stop and rest on my laurels. This award keeps me focused. It reminds me that my work with the community must continue, no matter how difficult it becomes-not only because I have people holding me accountable, but because it is the only way to serve justice to Archbishop Romero’s legacy.”
Romero is a source of strength that has inspired Franco to become a woman for others. She congratulated her fellow finalists and then thanked Lykes, her friends, God, and-in Spanish-her family, for helping her to reach this point. Her dream is to represent marginalized populations and to become a voice for the voiceless, she said.
“We must become catalysts for enabling change,” Franco said. “It will be an honor for me to go forth and fight for his life’s work by standing up for others who don’t have a voice and striving against inequality. I will be the voice for those who are voiceless and will work for justice for our people, because my greatest reward is being a woman for others.”