The donor covers tuition and books for graduates of an HISD high school

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An anonymous donor has pledged to cover one semester’s worth of tuition and textbooks for Liberty High School’s latest graduates, the Houston Independent School District announced Sunday.

The 46 graduates of the class of 2022 from the Sharpstown campus will receive scholarships to cover their first semester at the college or trade school of their choice, said Chau Nguyen, a former KHOU-TV presenter who helped organize the Don.

Nguyen, now chief public strategist for Houston Area Women’s Center, surprised the graduates by announcing the donation during his commencement speech at Saturday’s commencement ceremony. The former presenter and donor – a friend of Nguyen who wished to remain anonymous – kept their plans secret until the big reveal.

Sitting in the audience, graduate Nathalia Estrada didn’t know at first if she should believe what she was hearing. Accepted to study psychology at the University of Houston in the fall, Estrada had recently written a letter to the college’s financial aid department asking for help due to an illness in her immediate family.

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“It was like a choir of angels offering a solution,” Estrada said of the moment she heard the news from Nguyen.

The 19-year-old, who moved to Houston from Masatepe, Nicaragua three years ago, plans to follow a pre-medical route in hopes of becoming a psychiatrist. Although her plans are set, she said many of her fellow graduates are not planning to go to college due to a lack of funds – until Saturday.

“I was just speechless,” Liberty principal Mónico Rivas said of the announcement.

Nguyen had warned Rivas two days before the ceremony, but the principal “still wasn’t 100% sure” what would happen during the speech. She began by telling the story of her family’s difficult journey as refugees from Vietnam – then she told the audience about the largesse of the anonymous donor.

“I could see their smiles, their eyes widening,” Rivas said. “The students were super surprised.



As principal of the alternative high school, which offers day and evening classes, Rivas has seen the dedication his students apply to their studies. The campus was the first of its kind in Texas when it opened in 2007 as Newcomer Charter High School to accommodate newly arrived immigrants who often balance full-time work and family responsibilities. More than 90% of its students are Latinos.

The scholarships will allow many recent graduates to begin post-secondary studies immediately, Rivas said, rather than delaying to save money. Research shows that students who transition through college without a break are more likely to stick with it. About 70% will enroll in community college, he said, while 10% go on to trade school.

While Rivas and Nguyen are still finalizing the donation, both said on Sunday that the scholarships were unconditional.

“We hope it will give them a head start on their college journey because it is expensive and people face challenges,” Nguyen said. “They work, they are mothers, they help support their families.”

As a child of Vietnamese refugees, Nguyen understands the difficulties many recent immigrants face when adjusting to life in Houston. She said she hopes her own unlikely path to success will inspire graduates to think big.

“When I was very young, my parents were struggling like a lot of these kids who are new to America, living in poverty and trying to make ends meet,” Nguyen said. “So I shared some of these stories during the speech to let them know that they are not alone and that their dreams can come true.”

Nguyen hosted KHOU’s morning news show until 2007. She earned a master’s degree in social work and became a counselor before joining the staff of the Houston Area Women’s Center, a nonprofit focused on violence. domestic and sexual.

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