Jasmine Trinidad had applied for several college scholarships before nearly giving up on the idea she would receive any funds to help pay for school — until the day she opened a letter mailed to her house and read, "I am pleased to inform you…"
She was already shaking.
"Pleased to inform me?" she thought. "This must be something good."
She won the scholarship from the Jeanne Ward Foundation based on the art portfolio she created at Hoover High, and it will cover the cost of her books, tuition and art supplies for her first year at Pasadena City College.
Trinidad, who is also the first in her household to attend college, said school hasn't always been easy for her, especially in the beginning when she discovered she had a learning disability in elementary school.
She had trouble retaining information and didn't feel she had a place to fit in, so early on, she'd think of any excuse to not go to school.
"I've had to fall and get up a lot of times to get to where I am," she said. "It hasn't been a perfect road."
But as a freshman at Hoover High, she said things began to change for her when she took her first art class with teacher Mary Pomonis, and she immediately felt she could be herself among fellow student artists.
"We had a place to be in," she said. Over the next four years, she continued to take art classes, and painting has become her strength.
Butterflies are a recurring theme in her work, signifying migration or personal growth.
Trinidad's parents were born in El Salvador and immigrated to the United States before she was born. Last July, she returned to their home country with a friend and met young children who she said have to learn to grow up fast.
She learned many children drop out of school to work or care for their younger siblings at home in order for a parent to work and bring home an income.
"I definitely grew a lot when I came back [from El Salvador]," she said. "I learned a lot about their history and the history of the civil war that happened there, and my parents being victims of that. I understood where I come from and I was a product of that."
Upon returning from El Salvador, Trinidad raised butterflies to examine their development process up close before setting them free.
She raised more again this spring to better create renderings of butterflies in her artwork.
Two of them emerged from their chrysalises deformed with crumpled wings and unable to fly, but they laid eggs. She likened those butterflies to her parents, who have provided her a life they could not necessarily pursue themselves.
"Everything they went through, I used as an example of life — on how not everyone makes it, but that it's OK," she said of the butterflies. "They laid their eggs, giving [their offspring] an opportunity to fly. They didn't make it, like my parents coming here. [My parents] weren't able to do what I'm going to get to do. They were able to give me that opportunity."
Now, as Trinidad prepares to begin college, she is also intent on offering others support she received herself, and plans to become a high school art teacher.
"I want to give back what was given to me," she said.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.