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Daniels Fund surprises NM students with scholarships

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Tanya Vargas was one of several mothers and high school students left wiping away tears at City Hall on Friday.

Vargas’ son, Jordan Vargas, a senior at Farmington High School, was one of several New Mexico students who learned Friday that they had been awarded the Daniels Scholarship.

The Vargases and about 10 other families from northern New Mexico were summoned to City Hall in Albuquerque under the guise that Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller was making a higher education announcement. Really, he was there to tell the students they were getting a scholarship. A total of 24 New Mexico high school seniors learned Friday they were awarded the scholarship.

“I’m an emotional wreck,” Tanya Vargas said. “It’s good to see Jordan work like he did. People underestimated him, but he pulled through and got what he wanted.”

With the scholarship, Jordan says he wants to go to the University of South Carolina to study sports management. Tanya said the scholarship will make that plan possible. She said she and her children have struggled financially in recent years.

“We’ve had a couple hardships in our life,” she said.

The Daniels Scholarship is named after Bill Daniels, a business leader and philanthropist who died in 2000 and his nearly $1.1 billion estate was used to make one of the largest private charitable foundations in the Rocky Mountain Region. Since his death, the Daniels Fund has distributed $103 million in grants and scholarships to students in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, which are states that Bill Daniels had strong ties to.

The students who receive the scholarship must demonstrate character, leadership and service, said Linda Childears, president and CEO of the Daniels Fund.

She said since 2000, the Daniels Fund has awarded 4,000 scholarships to students who have gone to 600 American college. Students who receive the scholarship can use it as an institution of their choice.

The scholarship accounts for about $18,800 per year on average, but that can vary depending on where the scholar chooses to attend and their family situation.

Aja Lujan, a senior at Highland High School, also learned Friday that she received the scholarship. She plans to use it to become a pre-med student at the University of Washington next fall.

“She’s worked very hard. I’m a single parent and she’s done all kinds of stuff … and her main goal was to go to college and the goal that she has is now real,” said Betty Lujan, Aja’s mother. “She’s going to improve everything in her life … and she’s going to be spreading her wings and going out there and making good of herself. Being a Native American, it’s a big step.”

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