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Rifle High School senior is first in family to college

Story by Theresa Hamilton was first published in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

Veronica-Toscano-Santoyo

Rifle High School senior Veronica Toscano-Santoyo wants to become a high school math teacher. Because of the Colorado Mountain College President’s Scholarship, she will be able to begin right after high school.

Life-changing moments don’t always announce themselves.

A new acquaintance, a new job, a conversation or simply a letter can be the catalyst for a magnificent new journey. It’s how people react to the new opportunities that can be magical.

Rifle High School senior Veronica Toscano-Santoyo is about to embark on just such a magical journey.

On Feb. 25, Colorado Mountain College President Carrie Hauser sent a letter to all high school seniors in CMC’s attendance area saying, “Congratulations! You are almost finished with your high school education and are headed to great new life adventure! We’re offering $1,000 to help you get started.”

Students had to complete the FASFA and apply by March 31, complete high school, commit to taking 15 credit hours and maintain a minimum GPA of 2.0.

The offer of $1,000 toward post-secondary education just appeared in hundreds of mailboxes across the Western Slope — including Veronica’s. She didn’t hesitate.

During her sophomore year, she had decided that college was the plan after high school to become a math teacher. Knowing that her family did not have the means to pay for college, she was going to continue her job at Burger King for a year to save enough money and attend school the following year.

Then the letter appeared in her mailbox. Timing had now changed.

“I was really excited,” Veronica said. “I had been stressing out about college. I was so stressed out about the money, but getting the letter took all of the weight off. I told myself that I had to take advantage of this opportunity that was handed to me.”

The letter was the second life-changing event in Veronica’s 17 years. The first came 14 years earlier in the same community that she calls home today. On July 6, 2001, at the unthinkable age of 4, Veronica’s mother died as the result of a single gunshot suffered at the hands of Steven Michael Stagner. On July 3, 2001, Stagner went on a shooting spree in Rifle leaving four dead and three injured.

According to reports following the attack, late in the evening of July 3, Angelica Toscano had gone into the City Market parking lot to use the pay phone and call her mother in Nayarit, Mexico. She was shot and flown to St. Mary’s Hospital, where she passed away three days later.

Angelica had just arrived from Mexico in May and was to begin a housekeeping job July 4. She toiled to create an opportunity to join her father, Angel, in the United States. She loved baseball and red roses, and her young daughters, ages 1½ and 4. The girls were with their grandmother in Mexico during the event. Angelica wanted to make money to provide a better life for her little girls.

Veronica’s grandparents adopted her and her sister Dulce. They did everything they could to support the girls and give them the opportunities that their mother didn’t get to have. Veronica was an average student her freshman year, and then things changed.

“My grandparents always told me how smart my mother was. They encouraged me to do well in school,” Veronica said. “My sophomore year, they told me that she came here get her GED and go to college. She wanted to create a better life for my sister and me. That is when I decided that I was going to go to college and that I am going to live out her dream.”

She added that no one in her family has higher than a middle-school education, and the opportunity to go to college impacts so many lives. She wishes that she had recognized that earlier.

“I regret so much my freshman year. I took high school way too easy.” she added. “I let my GPA suffer.”

Veronica plays soccer for Rifle High, works 20 hours a week on top of her school and athletics and will graduate this spring in the top half of her class. The President’s Scholarship will provide her the opportunity to pursue her dream — and her mother’s dream — of attending college.

“I want to do this for Mom. She would have loved to see us grow up and be successful.

Theresa Hamilton is the director of districtwide services for the Garfield School District Re-2, serving Rifle, Silt and New Castle.