‘The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me’

A scholarship for students from Chelsea, Massachusetts opens unexpected opportunities

a student and an alumna on Tufts campus

Janicy Canales, A09, was two years old when her family left Honduras and settled just north of Boston, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. She had challenges growing up, particularly when her mother—a single parent—was injured and almost paralyzed in an accident. But the doctors took good care of her mother, inspiring Canales to work hard in school so she could pursue a career helping others.

When Canales was accepted to Tufts’ Class of 2009, she was over the moon, until her mother gently pointed out that they would still have to figure out a way to pay for it. “That brought things back to earth,” she recalled. Then, a couple of weeks, later she received a letter from Tufts. “It said I was going to get a scholarship of some sort.”

That scholarship, which covered her full tuition and costs for four years, was the generous gift of a couple who wanted to support the education of a student from Chelsea. It allowed Canales to receive a degree in psychology and set her on the path to law school. “To this day I get emotional,” Canales said. “It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.”

For more than a decade, the donors—who prefer to remain anonymous—funded full scholarships for other Chelsea High School graduates. And recently, they decided to endow the scholarship permanently through the creation of a $2 million scholarship fund.

Patricia Reilly, Tufts’ director of financial aid, said the scholarship has helped foster a relationship between Tufts and Chelsea. “As we are working to increase the diversity of the class, places like Chelsea provide important feeder schools for us,” she said.

About 45 percent of Chelsea’s 40,000 residents were born outside the United States, many of them in Central and South America. At the same time, many potential applicants from the city need financial assistance to pay for college; although Chelsea has been growing economically in recent years, one in five residents lives in poverty.

Karen Richardson, the Tufts dean of admissions, said that the scholarship fund continues to impact students from Chelsea for whom a Tufts education would be financially out of reach. “As a result of this support, we have noticed a steady stream of applications in the past several years,” she said. “We are thrilled to attract amazing students from a local community thanks to the vision and compassion of the donors.”

As Canales had hoped, she has used her education to help others, working as a victims’ advocate in the district attorney’s office and as a student attorney in Suffolk University’s Indigenous Peoples Rights Clinic. Now a lawyer, Canales is interested in assisting people with immigration issues, which have been a large part of her life. She credits the scholarship with making it all possible. “For me, it was a miracle, a godsend,” she said.

Right now, the Chelsea scholarship is helping Sara Arman, A19. She knew she wanted to go to Tufts from the day she visited. “I just felt a sense of community that I didn’t really feel at other schools,” she said. That camaraderie helped her later. A top student at Chelsea High, the international relations major was sometimes challenged by Tufts’ rigorous academics. One day she sat in the lounge of the Africana Center with a difficult assignment. Soon juniors and seniors were offering to help her, saying, “I’ll give you my notes from that class” or “I’ll read over this with you so you get it.”

“My favorite thing about Tufts is that the people around you are so genuine and so caring,” she said.

When she graduates, Arman hopes to do policy work at the local or state level. In the meantime, she is active as a Tisch Scholar for Civic Life, a volunteer at the Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center in Boston, and the president of the Muslim Students Association.

She also takes inspiration from the donors, who have made time to get to know her, her life, and her aspirations. “They are people who really care about giving back to where they came from.”

Julie Flaherty can be reached at julie.flaherty@tufts.edu.

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