Daisy Mendoza, a senior high school student from the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Dallas, always knew she was born to be different.

She wanted to pave a new path in her family and become the first person to attend college.

This week, the high schooler will take the first step toward her future when she walks across the stage and earns her high school diploma. In the audience will be her parents, the ones who didn’t get to finish high school. But they always pushed her to believe in the impossible.

“My parents never graduated high school but worked hard and had two or three jobs. It always made me feel grateful,” said Mendoza, headed to UTA. “They encourage me to stand up for myself. They push me to change the world like I always wanted.”

Martinez was among the 155 graduates from the Young Women’s Preparatory Network (YWPN) who joined the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday for a celebration event that Dallas Mavs CEO Cynt Marshall pioneered when she arrived at the franchise five years ago.

Since then, the Mavs have welcomed YWLA graduates each year to speak hope into their future and equip them with the tools they’ll need to flourish in college. Many of the students come from economically disadvantaged homes and the baskets were created with that in mind.

Each of the graduating seniors from Dallas, Grand Prairie and Fort Worth received a laptop, $200 from Chime, $180 in additional gift cards, $100 worth of college gear, and two books to inspire the girls as they begin their college journeys. Each package is valued at a minimum of $1,200, for a total donation of more than $186,000 for these college-bound seniors.

“This brings me full circle,” Marshall said. “I was the first in my family to go to college. And looking at what the Mavs have done to help get these girls started took me back to when I was in high school and the struggles we had and the odds we had to overcome, and all I could think about when I look at these people is: that’s the village.

“Literally, I had a village that invested in me, and now I’m a part of an organization that can help these girls get where they need to go.”

When we first came across Mendoza, she was surrounded by a group of friends who were excitedly looking at all their new gifts.

“Seeing my basket finally hit me that I’m actually going to college,” she said. “I’ve been ignoring graduation, but now that it’s here, I feel so happy and grateful. I really couldn’t get all this stuff on my own. I have always loved the Mavericks. I’ve always seen the Mavericks supporting schools, and the Mavs doing this for us is the sweetest thing ever. My transition from high school to college will be much easier with what they gave us. I am so very thankful.”

In 2019, the Dallas Mavericks announced plans to strengthen its support to YWLA campuses across North Texas. About half of the graduates will be the first in their families to graduate high school and attend college. The first wave of high school graduates from the 2019 celebration recently graduated college.

Joy was in the heart of everyone at Tuesday’s celebration.

Marshall delivered a strong message about her youth, which included difficult times, and how she tackled those adversities. She thanked every educator and teacher in the audience and brought renewed hope to the graduates.

She also shared a story about a recent visit to her college campus. The experience brought back many memories from when she first stepped on the campus at the University of California, Berkeley, in the late 1970s.

“I was sobbing because it was a dream come true,” Marshall shared. “I had a dream to go to college, but more importantly, my family, my teachers, my principals – they had this dream that I would go to college. I stepped foot on that campus, and their dream came true. And the rest is history.”

Marshall, who is the first Black woman CEO in the NBA, then addressed the students with heartfelt words: “You will step on campus in a few weeks with big, big dreams. They aren’t just your dreams but those of your family members and all the educators who supported you. They are the dreams of your community. And they are the dreams of your ancestors. Dream big.”

She later hosted a fireside chat with the president of the Chime Scholars Foundation, Jeni Izuel. The Dallas Mavericks entertainment teams also attended; the event was filled with music, entertainment, and photo opportunities to mark the joyous occasion.

Mendoza said her favorite part of the Mavs graduation event came when Marshall asked everyone who was a first-generation college student to raise their hands.

“When I saw all the hands go up around me, I didn’t feel alone for once,” she shared. “I’ve always felt like my experience was unique and I’ve often felt very alone, but seeing all these girls here and the speakers talk about their struggles was special. We are all sisters, and I am my sisters’ keeper.”

Mendoza believes the graduation event was a launchpad into her future. She now has the tools to succeed and newfound passion to chase after her big dreams.

“I have a lot of plans for my future,” she enthusiastically shared. “I love helping people, especially orphans in the foster system. I’ve always wanted to be a foster parent, and that’s 100 percent my goal to help kids to transition into a better life. My dad was an orphan, and he told me you don’t want to be in that system. I want to go out there and make people’s lives better. I really want to just help people. That’s what I’ve always done and plan to do.”

Story: Tamara.Jolee@DallasMavs.com
Photos: Roberto.Hernandez@DallasMavs.com

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