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Honoring Latine Youth at the 38th Annual HACE Awards

Contact: Karen Hutner
Office of Institutional Communications
khutner [at]

Release Date: 

WORCESTER, MA— November 21, 2023 — Quinsigamond Community College has once again partnered with the local community to celebrate Latine youth in Central Massachusetts for the annual Hispanics Achieving and Celebrating Excellence (HACE) event. During this year’s 38th award ceremony, 32 Worcester and Southbridge Latine high school students were awarded scholarships.

The HACE awards recognize students who have excelled in arts, academics, athletics and leadership. Since the program’s inception, HACE has awarded more than $210,000 to over 800 students.

At the event, HACE Co-Chair Dr. Déborah L. González described the challenges she faced coming from Puerto Rico to the United States.

“I came to the United States at 18, with only a rudimentary grasp of English. I faced challenges and uncertainties. The support and encouragement of people like you...determined, resilient and deeply proud of their roots, helped me navigate those early years,” González said. “I want you to remember these words: ‘Nunca se rindan’. Never give up. Your identity as Latino is a source of strength and pride. Use this identity to empower your actions, to make a difference and inspire change.”

Fabiola Mendez, an educator, musician and composer gave the keynote address, as well as a musical performance.

Mendez told the students how growing up in Puerto Rico, she was teased for playing the cuatro, a stringed instrument used in traditional Puerto Rican folk music. Through the support of her family and music school, she stuck with it and eventually became the first graduate of Berklee College of Music to use a cuatro as a principal instrument.

“My culture was and still is the base of everything I do. My community supported me and made me grow stronger and proud of my roots,” Mendez said.

Since graduating from Berklee in 2018, Mendez has collaborated with companies like Disney, HBO Max and PBS Kids, and received numerous awards including the Quincy Jones Award for composition.

Another speaker, former HACE recipient Worcester City Manager Eric Batista, told the students how the award set him on a path to success.

“The HACE award helped to solidify my path to higher education but also gave me the confidence to earn a bachelor’s degree and later a master’s. College opens doors to help you find a rewarding career and it also puts you in a position to lead by giving back,” Batista said. “Thank you for doing what you do to make your lives and your family's lives a lot better and make the city of Worcester better.”

Massachusetts State Senator Robyn Kennedy noted that her office will be dedicating an internship to a HACE graduate each year.

“This event, this work, serves as an intentional, consistent reminder of the beauty of our community, of the power that you bring to your community and the enormous value your place in our community is,” Kennedy said.

Three students were also honored with special awards:

  • QCC student Melissa Cahill was the winner of the Olga López-Hill Community Leadership Award. This scholarship is available to QCC students who plan to continue their education at Quinsigamond or transfer to another educational institution.
  • Youthworks student Edwin Delacruz Davila was the winner of the Marlyn Reyes Memorial Community Leadership Award. This scholarship is given to a student who strives to help others and influence policy in their community.
  • Pamely Saldana, Worcester Technical High School and Briana Baez, North High School were the winners of the Dolly Vázquez Cultural Award. This scholarship is awarded to students who embody Dolly’s passion for arts and humanities.

QCC President Dr. Luis Pedraja closed the ceremony with a motivational message to the students. 

“It’s important that you don’t forget your roots. As a Latino, I've always believed my job is to pay it forward because there were people who believed in me at one point, people who sacrificed to get me where I’m at,” Pedraja said. “When I look at each and every one of you, I see the future of our community, the faces of the leaders of tomorrow and it gives me hope.”

2023 HACE Scholarship Recipients

  • Osiris Adon Suero, University Park Campus School
  • Brianna Cabrera, North High School
  • Estefany Carranza Sanchez, Claremont Academy
  • Daniel Castillo, Southbridge High School
  • Jasmine Conde, University Park Campus School
  • Ariana Costoso, South High Community School
  • Isabelle Dejesus, Doherty Memorial HS
  • Teresita del Valle, Saint Paul Diocesan Jr/Sr High School
  • Edwin Delacruz Davila, YouthWorks
  • Zharick DeLosSantos Segura, University Park Campus School
  • Jose Fermin Veras, North High School
  • Olyvia Figueroa, Abby Kelley Foster Charter
  • Haycer Garcia, Southbridge High School (MassEdCO)
  • Michelli Garcia Figueredo, Latino Education Institute
  • Cesar Giraldo, Worcester Technical High School
  • ZaMaiyah Gonzales, Saint Paul Diocesan Jr/Sr High School
  • Heidi Landaverde, Burncoat High
  • Amaiyah Martinez, Abby Kelley Foster Charter School
  • Nicole Martinez, Doherty High School
  • Jimmy Murcia Calderon, North High School
  • Vincent Nivar, Claremont Academy
  • Jean Ocasio Jr., North High School
  • Joshua Ortiz, Burncoat High
  • Christian Ortiz-Torres, Southbridge High School (MassEdCO)
  • Juno Pagan, Burncoat High
  • Karlen Perez, Worcester Technical High School
  • Mehilyn Polanco-Morel, Burncoat High
  • Marielys Reyes, Abby Kelley Foster Charter
  • Solimar Rivera, South High School Community School
  • Ray Rivera-Lopez, Bancroft School
  • Juan Rodriguez, Doherty Memorial High School
  • Pamely Saldana, Worcester Technical High School
  • Nathaniel Segura, Bancroft School
  • Juan Vega Torres, Claremont Academy
  • Robert Zayas, Southbridge High School

Quinsigamond Community College is the most affordable higher education in Worcester County. As a regional leader in education and workforce development, QCC serves the diverse educational needs of Central Massachusetts by providing affordable, accessible, and high quality programming leading to transfer, career, and lifelong learning.