ARLINGTON — Thousands graduated from college on Sunday, and it was an extra special moment for one student in the crowd at the University of Texas at Arlington.
For years after high school, Kimberly Sams took her parents' advice to "just get a job to pay the bills." But that left her feeling unfulfilled.
So Sams dared to dream, making a goal once considered far-fetched a reality with the help of a scholar program and the determination to accomplish something no else in her family ever has.
"I can't even believe it's happening, because I've been working at this for five years and it's suddenly here! I can't believe it; it's surreal," she said.
When Sams was a little girl, she learned the value of hard work — watching her mom clean houses and her dad read meters.
So walking the halls at UTA to major in English and history is a major milestone.
"It's huge," she said. "Education is something my family always valued, but not necessarily understood, and I'm the first one in my family to even attempt going to college — let alone graduating and then going on for a Ph.D."
And there are others like Sams in the McNair Scholars Program which helps first-generation college students from low socio-economic backgrounds. It's designed to prepare these eligible undergrads for future graduate study.
Dr. Joan Reinhardt served as a key mentor for Kimberly Sams, helping her graduate with honors.
"I hope that I can be that professor to somebody else, because I mean, they've literally transformed my life," Sams said. "It makes me want to cry. I just wouldn't know anything about what I'm going to be able to do if it weren't for them."
It was an emotional moment for a young lady who always knew she was smart... but never realized her true potential.
"This is one of those programs that makes the univerisity experience very fulfilling for students, and does help them develop that confidence for whatever it is they want to do after they graduate," Dr. Reinhardt said.
A feather in Kim's graduation cap? She's been awarded a scholarship to pursue a doctoral degree in history at Washington University in St. Louis.
No one in the graduation audience will be prouder than her parents, who are happy to be upstaged.
And Sams is most proud of the fact that her little brother is now planning to go to college, saying if she can do it... he can, too.