UF student-to-be gets big surprise: $2,500 scholarship

Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 9:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 9:59 p.m.

Marielis Nieves thought she drove two hours from Georgia to the University of Florida on Wednesday just to talk about her upcoming first semester of college and look at her financial aid options.

She left with a $2,500 scholarship from Dr. Pepper and a chance to win more.

Nieves, 18, is a student in UF’s Innovation Academy, the program in which students only take on-campus courses during spring and summer semesters.

She sat in a Criser Hall conference room Wednesday with a handful of classmates to discuss inaugural activities, updates to the program and study abroad opportunities.

During the meeting, Dr. Pepper executives surprised Nieves by presenting her a check for $2,500 and offering her the opportunity to attend the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta next month to compete for a $100,000 grand prize during halftime.

She said she was confused when people walked in with cameras and red and white balloons until her eyes caught the Dr. Pepper logo on the red sweater vest worn by one of the executives.

“This isn’t happening,” she thought. “This isn’t real.”

Nieves had submitted a video as part of the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway, where she explains why she deserves the money.

In the video, the native of St. Marys, Ga., and an aspiring anthropology major wears a red Dr. Pepper shirt and explains that she could use the money because of the high cost of out-of-state tuition and the fact that her father works two jobs to support the family.

On Wednesday, she considered the scholarship a gift for her 19th birthday, which is Saturday.

“This is unbelievable,” she said.

She breathed deeply as she processed the news before calling her dad to come join the meeting quickly.

“Well, hurry up,” she said, without explaining. “You better run.”

Like his daughter, Henry Nieves, 47, held back emotion as he took in the surprise and talked about how they had planned to look at financial aid options for Marielis later in the day.

“We came here today to see what we can do,” he said.

He said he told his daughter that no matter what, they would make it happen. Something would come up.

From the crowd, someone pointed out the obvious and was met with laughter.

“Something came up!”

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