Samantha Camacho has always wanted to go to college.
Although no one in her family has earned more than a high school diploma, Camacho — a recent graduate of East Hall High School who was also dual enrolled at the Howard E. Ivester Early College — has dreamed of being the first to pursue higher education since her elementary school years.
Thanks to hard work and a little help, Camacho’s dream has finally become a reality.
Camacho was the most recent recipient of the William T. Carlisle Memorial Scholarship, a need-based scholarship paid out by the North Georgia Community Foundation that will net her $10,000 to pay for schooling at the University of Georgia. She will enroll in Athens this fall and plans to major in business marketing with a co-major in international business.
“I think it’s very important, because I’m Hispanic, and most of the Hispanics from my community don’t really get past a high school diploma,” Camacho said. “Even just earning a certificate or a bachelor’s or associate’s degree would mean a lot. I’m truly living the American dream.”
Camacho’s journey to Athens began with her father, Aeron, constantly emphasizing the importance of education. While her parents did not attend college themselves, Aeron wanted his children to have every opportunity for success.
Camacho was not originally going to apply to UGA, but encouragement from her father and from her friends at East Hall quickly changed her mind.
“Not a lot of people from East Hall High School tend to go on to big universities,” she said. “Everybody was pretty much staying local at the University of North Georgia. It was just my dad encouraging me, and then my friends also pushing me that made me want to apply.”
When she received her letter of acceptance, Camacho said the first emotion she felt was shock.
The moment was a special one for both Camacho and her parents, who were overjoyed that their daughter would be the first member of the family to attend college.
“It was like I was living their dream as well as mine,” Camacho said.
Michele Hood, the dean of Howard E. Ivester Early College, said the accomplishment could not have happened to a better person.
Hood has gotten to know Camacho over the past two years, and she also helped Camacho fill out her financial aid paperwork.
“Samantha has such a bright personality,” Hood said. “She’s always smiling and lighting up everyone else’s day. I am so proud of and happy for her.”
Hood said Camacho’s achievement should serve as an inspiration for aspiring first-generation college students everywhere and that her enrollment at UGA could “generationally change her and her family’s lives.”
Camacho said she hopes other young people will draw motivation from her achievements.
“If you keep pushing forward and having that spark and motivation and that goal — if you find that specific goal, I believe you can achieve whatever you want to do,” she said. “Keep pushing through. You might have a lot of failures or challenges, but as long as you get back up, I think you can achieve your goal.”