By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 14, 2009
Maria Guzman is heading to college, open to the idea that at the end of it she may choose a religious life as a sister.
“It’s always felt right. I wouldn’t be surprised,” said the Holy Spirit Preparatory School senior about her interest in religious life.
Last winter she spent three days with the Missionaries of Charity at their Atlanta ministry caring for women with AIDS. She led the ‘posada’ festivities at a mobile home park, a Mexican Christmas tradition where people visit homes to recreate Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging. She prepared a vat of soup and distributed it to people on the street.
But until her journey takes her in that direction, Maria, who is 18, in the fall will attend Notre Dame University. She plans to study liberal arts.
“The two things I love the most and take most seriously are learning and my Catholicism. I hope and expect that it’s a place I am most likely to meet people like me.”
It might never have happened. She weighed whether to risk the $65 application fee since her family could never afford the nearly $50,000 a year in tuition and room and board.
“I didn’t really have much hope of going,” she admitted.
But an honest, soul-baring 2,000-word essay caught the attention of the school’s financial aid officials.
“Apparently it paid off,” she said.
And just weeks ago, Maria learned she received both a prestigious national scholarship from the Gates Millennium Scholars program and a financial scholarship from the university that will cover all fees, books and tuition.
Maria said she focused the writing on how her goal as a high school student was never to fit into a box and limit herself, but set her own standards and interests.
She said she fought the idea that success is “to make yourself a good person on paper.”
Maria’s family came to Atlanta from Mexico when she was 8. She and her older brother were raised by their mother, Estela Gonzalez, who works in sales for a food company. They attend Holy Spirit Church.
On campus, she played tennis and soccer. Maria also teaches weekly piano lessons to three students. (“He is da bomb,” she said about Beethoven.)
Her extended family is important to her and going away to South Bend, Indiana, will be a hard transition.
“Three times a year is rough,” she said. “I just have a huge, amazing family.”
Leaving high school is also difficult.
“It’s where I grew up,” she said. “It’s where I learned what I really want out of life.”