There was a special high school graduation celebration in Irving Thursday as the community came together to support Nimitz High School's salutatorian.
Just a couple of months before, they'd learned Sara Escobar had worked her way through her senior year while she and her parents were homeless. It's a detail she'd withheld from teachers and friends as she did her best to overcome the challenges that came with it.
"I didn't want to use that as an excuse, because it's not an excuse for me," said Escobar.
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After living in more than half a dozen homes throughout high school, Sara and her parents ended up in a shelter for some time and even spent a couple of months in a van.
Early mornings became her time to get homework done for a course load full of Advanced Placement courses with her sights set on graduating at the top of her class.
"I actually started crying. I was so excited, and then I kind of got scared because I knew I'd have to speak in front of a thousand people," said Escobar.
But though she was nervous, she knew it was her chance to finally share her story.
"I was crying when I was reading her speech and realized this is the kind of girl who needs help, and this is the kind of help we need to give," said President of the Irving Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Mary Ann Kellam.
Kellam first learned about Escobar's story after a trustee went looking for those who might be able to help.
Kellam immediately got to work looking for donors to help fund Escobar's freshman year at the University of Texas Austin.
The first time she met with her, she already had more than $7,000 raised. By Thursday's celebration, they were less than $1,000 shy of funding her entire freshman year.
"It blows my mind and money's still coming in," said Kellam.
They were also able to gift Sara with more than $900 in gift cards to furnish her new dorm and some spending money to use when she arrives in Austin.
Sara has plans to major in biology and to pursue a career as a dentist. For now, she says her focus is finding financial security along with the ability to help others in need.
Those helping her believe she already has.
"It's not a story about poor, poor Sara. It's a story about how can you empower and inspire other young girls. What you have done, you have to understand takes a lot. For people to fight through what you've gone through and be able to come out," said Kellam.
Starting next year, Sara will qualify for UT's new program that promises free tuition to students coming from households with annual incomes of less than $65,000.