BY ROGER MOONEY
Roberto Porras was at his job as a pharmaceutical rep in his native Venezuela when his wife, Ony, called with the news that she was pregnant.
It was the spring of 2003, and Roberto, overjoyed at the thought of becoming a dad, was concerned about the baby’s future in a country rife with political unrest.
“I started thinking what I can offer to my child, better options,” Roberto said. “At that moment I decided I had to move from there.”
So, he and Ony left their home in Maracaibo and followed family members who had immigrated to Miami.
On Dec. 24 of that year, Ony gave birth to a girl they named Diana. On May 26 of this year, Diana graduated near the top of her class from Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami, having compiled a 5.29 weighted GPA and 33 dual enrollment credits to college.
Diana, 18, will attend Florida International University (FIU), where she plans to double major in computer science and Spanish. Having earned an Ambassador Scholarship from FIU and a Florida Medallion Scholarship plus a Federal Pell Grant, Diana’s college tuition is fully covered.
“We are blessed with her,” Roberto said. “She is very smart.”
The “better options” Roberto hoped to offer his daughter came to fruition in their new home with the help of an education choice scholarship.
Diana received a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship to attend Catholic school from kindergarten through 12th grade. The same with her sister, Mariana, who will be an eighth-grader during the 2022-23 school year at Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic School in Miami Lakes.
The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship is funded by corporate donations to Step Up For Students.
“Without Step Up, I wouldn’t be here today with all these accolades,” Diana said. “Without Step Up, I wouldn’t have realized what a privilege it is to be in the position that I am, receiving all these opportunities. I have to take advantage of them.
“It’s a privilege to be educated. There are so many people who can’t or don’t want to.”
To say Diana loves to learn is an understatement.
She loves taking notes in class, studying, and getting perfect scores on tests and assignments.
“It’s about focusing on school and not having a life, I guess,” she joked before adding, “Applying the stuff I learn to the real world is the most fun part of it for me.”
During her senior year at Pace, Diana took advance placement (AP) classes in government, literature, computer science and calculus, plus a physics honors course.
She took the AP Spanish exam in May without taking AP Spanish. Diana spent the two days prior to the test studying Spanish literature, then aced the exam.
“She’s that kind of student,” said Hedda Falcon, who teaches computer science and technology at Pace. “She’s so bright. She can do anything.”
For Shadow Day during her senior year, when students follow a teacher around to see what the job entails, Diana chose to shadow Falcon. They each wore the same dress, the same shoes and the same nail polish. It was Diana’s way of paying tribute to the teacher who had the most impact on her education.
“I don’t even know how to say it,” Falcon said. “It was an honor.”
Diana was involved in 10 clubs during her four years at Pace, including STEM Academy, Women in STEM Club, engineering and computer technology. She was also a member of the Spartan Ambassador Society. She was president of several of those clubs. Those roles, Diana said, helped her build leadership skills. It also helped her develop what she called her “public voice.”
“How to talk to classmates. How to talk to teachers,” she said.
Diana took a class in Microsoft as a freshman. Students are required to receive certification in Word, Excel and PowerPoint to pass. Diana went two steps further and received certification in Outlook and Word Expert Level.
It was during a robotics class as a sophomore when Diana realized she loved computers. She helped build a robot that could throw a ball, move around a room and play music, including “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The computer is named “Bubbles,” and they call the remote used to control it the “Soap Bar.”
“That’s when I realized I just don’t like computers,” she said, “I also want to learn how they are made.”
Diana was the valedictorian of her eighth-grade class at Mother of Our Redeemer Catholic School in Miami. As part of her graduation speech, she reflected on how far she came during her nine years at the school. She remembered not being able to speak English when she entered kindergarten and how she could at the end of that school year.
By the eighth grade she knew why her parents moved to the United States.
“I’m very grateful for everything they have done,” she said. “They did not have to go through that, but they did for me and my sister and our futures.”
Once in Miami, Roberto entered nursing school, juggling a full-time job and his family with his studies. He is now a nurse at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood.
Earning top grades was Diana’s way of saying, “Thank you” for the opportunity of an education.
“That’s a maturity level you don’t see a lot of in high school,” Falcon said. “She appreciates what her parents have done for her.”
Roger Mooney, communications, manager, can be reached at rmooney@SUFS.org.