By MICHELLE CASADY
She sits in the living room of the modest home in Bryan where she and her four siblings grew up. Dominating one corner of the room is a grandfather clock she built with an older sister back in her junior high wood shop class. In the kitchen, more of 18-year-old Edith Ramirez's handiwork is on display -- she built all the cabinets that fill the room.
A warm smile spreads across her face and tears flow freely as she talks about the $80,000 college scholarship she recently received.
Just four months earlier, her biggest worry was figuring out how she could afford tuition. Now the young student's main concern will be maintaining at least a 2.5 GPA when she begins at Texas A&M University this fall, in order to keep the scholarship.
Ramirez received the money through the Terry Foundation.
The Houston-based foundation grants scholarships to top Texas high school graduates who enroll at a public college or university within the state. Students must be accepted into and nominated by the university to be eligible.
In early April, Ramirez, her mother and her niece made the two-hour trip to Houston to interview for the scholarship.
"I was debating not going," she said. "No one knew what it was, no one had heard of it."
Then she spoke to Roy Lopez, a financial aid adviser at A&M.
"He told me, 'Oh my God, girl. If you get that you're set for life!,'" she said.
On the way there, Ramirez said, she was excited but calm -- and still skeptical about her chances. Heading back to Bryan, emotions were a little different.
"I cried on the way home," she said. "I told my mom I totally blew it. That's when she told me it didn't matter, that even if I didn't get the scholarship, she'd find a way to help me go to college."
Her mother, Severa Mata, has lived in Bryan for 21 years and for the past 11 has been employed as a waitress at Jose's Restaurant. She has raised five children as a single parent.
Ramirez has three older sisters and a younger brother -- Esther, 20, twins Elisa and Elizabeth, 19, and Eulalio, 16.
About a month passed and Ramirez said she'd forgotten about the scholarship for the most part and busied herself tying up loose ends in high school -- finals, prom, Project Graduation. Not to mention her two part-time jobs at HEB and Jose's.
"Then, about two weeks before school was out, I got my letter saying I got it," she said. "I don't think my mom understood right away. I told her everything was paid for. She was shell-shocked."
Ramirez hopes to become a doctor after getting her undergraduate degree in biology. She's always had an interest in the medical field, she said, and thought about becoming a lab technician.
In high school, she took classes through the Hammond-Oliver High School for Human Sciences. Half of her classes were traditional and half focused exclusively on learning about the field of medicine, from ethics to anatomy.
She said she was excited about the classes before she even started taking them, thanks to her older sister Elisa, who went through the program and is now studying nursing at Blinn.
"It's one of the best choices I ever made," she said. "And my sisters were there to help me through it."
But when her aunt died of ovarian cancer in January of 2008, she knew being a lab technician wasn't her true calling.
"I reconsidered everything, and I realized I wanted to be an oncologist," she said.
During high school, Ramirez began volunteering at St. Joseph Regional Health Center in the oncology department.
"When my dad left, [my aunt] was one of the few people always here to support us," Ramirez said, through tears. "When she left us, it was a big hit. She was one of our best friends."
Out of 779 graduates in the Bryan High class of 2009, Ramirez was ranked 22nd. With additional local scholarships, including one she received at the Hispanic Forum Scholarship Gala earlier this month, she's secured more than $90,000 in college scholarships.