Hannin Haifa, a senior at Northbrook High School, received the 2019 Memorial City Mall Scholarship from Spring Branch Education Foundation (SBEF) on May 15.
“They gave me so much more than I expected,” she says. “It was very generous.”
Hannin will apply the $6,000 scholarship to her first year’s tuition at The University of Texas at Austin.
SBEF scholarships are awarded for holistic achievement: personal qualities, school and community involvement, family life and academics. While most scholarships are merit- or needs-based, SBEF looks at the whole child.
Since she was 3, Hannin (pronounced Haneen) Haifa lived with her grandparents in San Antonio. It was an idyllic life. Though she now knows her lifestyle was old-fashioned, it was normal to her.
“Other families participated in sporting events and had parties. We gardened, did chores and rode bikes. We had no technology. I didn’t discover the Internet until high school.”
Her lifestyle prepared Hannin to excel. She was part of her school’s Gifted and Talented program since kindergarten and advanced to Gifted and Talented Leadership. She took dual credit classes, joined the National Honor Society, played violin in her school’s advanced orchestra, participated in a number of extracurricular activities and volunteered in the community.
The idyllic life was not to last. Junior year transformed her forever. Her grandmother had been diagnosed with Stage 4 bone cancer. The loss of the woman who had been the center of their lives was beyond difficult for Hannin and her siblings. There would be “no more homemade food, goodnight kisses, smell of hot coffee in the mornings, or story times every night in the backyard.”
At a tender age, Hannin became the lady of the house, taking care of shopping, cooking, laundry and cleaning. Unexpectedly, their grandfather died six months later.
They had no one. The loneliness and responsibility were overwhelming.
They continued maintaining the house, working (they took their younger sister with them so she wouldn’t be alone) and keeping up with school.
It all became too much. There seemed to be no way to pay all the bills, maintain a house and attend to school. She made the tough decision to move, with her sister, to live with their mom in Houston. “I knew San Antonio. I had such special friends who were there for me. Houston was a big city, and I knew no one.”
It was hard to lose the people she loved best, and it was hard to make the move.
So, she shut down—unfamiliar territory for a self-described social butterfly. She enrolled in Northbrook High School, but she didn’t engage. “I isolated myself. I was falling into a deep hole and making it worse. Eventually, I decided my life is what it is. I started being myself again. I started talking, opening up. My AP biology group became my friendship group. Second semester was a rebuilding time. I’m still adapting.”
Collegiate Challenge helped. Her mentor, Jacqueline Wright, became a second mom, helping her with every aspect of college admission, including applying for scholarships.
“She wants the best for me,” Hannin says. “At first, I had no motivation. She reminded me of my worth, that I’m a survivor. I can’t thank her enough.”
Collegiate Challenge was also responsible for her campus visit to UT Austin where Hannin was struck by the students’ friendliness and diversity. If all goes according to plan, in the fall she’ll be joined on campus by her best friend from San Antonio.
“I’m looking forward to all there is to do on campus. I can start a new chapter of my life. I can discover myself there.” The first in her family to attend college, she plans to pursue a career in radiology.
In spite of everything she went through and entering a new school in her senior year, Hannin graduates in the top 10 of her class. Most important, she has learned her strength.
“I know that when I have a problem, I can handle it. I’m more understanding, more patient. I’m a stronger person.”
When she looks at the big picture, she says, “I’m really glad I lived with my grandparents. They taught me to be the lady I am. They made me the mature person I am. They taught me to appreciate everything I have.
“I always tried to make my grandma proud. Everything I do is for her. Even the smallest things made her happy, proud. I know she would be proud of me.”