What once seemed impossible for Angel Gaona from a distance looks achievable now that he’s closing in on it.
“I wasn’t expecting all this,” the North Lenoir High School senior said. “I wasn’t expecting so many opportunities. Now that I realize they’re there, I actually have hope for doing what I once thought was a dream.”
It’s a dream shared by many of the state’s top high school students – winning a coveted Morehead-Cain Scholarship to the University of North Carolina. Gaona, 18, of La Grange, was recently named one of 126 finalists for the merit-based scholarship, worth about $80,000 for in-state students.
His final hurdle in an application process that began months ago will come March 4-7, when he and other finalists gather at UNC for a series of interviews and activities on campus. The scholarships will be offered by March 10.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Gaona said of Final Selection Weekend. “I’ll just go in there, not overconfident, and hope something works out.”
He’s already made an impression. Among the 20 percent of initial hopefuls chosen to become semi-finalists, based on his academic record and a written application, he advanced to the final rung after an interview of regional candidates in Greenville in January.
“I think what they found to be most interesting is my background, that at a very young age I was a field worker,” Gaona recalled.
Working summers from age 12, first picking peaches, then working in tobacco, provided “life lessons,” he said. “It makes you value school more. It makes you value your education a whole lot more and from there go on to bigger things.”
His after-school job at a Goldsboro western wear store has benefits, too, he said. “It’s helped me improve my communications skills. It’s made it a lot easier to talk to random people.”
Asked by the Greenville interviewers how he found time to take a break, Gaona said he had to answer, “What free time? There’s always school or work; that’s pretty much how it is.”
He is a member of North Lenoir’s soccer team, has volunteered at the planetarium at Neuseway Park and spent last summer at N.C. Governor’s School as a math scholar.
The top student academically in his class, he plans to go to medical school after college and become a cardiologist.
Gaona is the son of Paula and Gregorio Gaona.