Picture and article by Melissa Bailey. Full text available on the New Haven Independent web site

As an admissions deadline neared, Solanlly Canas, a high-school valedictorian and an undocumented immigrant from Colombia, began to give up hope that she could afford to go to college. Then she got an email that “changed my life.”

Solanlly (at left in photo) got the email just days before the deadline by which incoming students across the country must make final decisions on where they plan to enroll in college.

Barred from receiving federal financial aid because of her legal status, Solanlly was staring at a $16,000 annual tuition gap at her school of choice, Fairfield University. Because she is not a U.S. citizen, the University of Connecticut offered her no aid. She had resigned to work extra hours at Walgreens and save up enough money to pay for Gateway Community College, one class at a time.

At the same time, her close friend Chastity Berrios (at right in photo), a U.S. citizen from Puerto Rico, was figuring out how to make ends meet in college—and stick with her trusty companion as they begin their college journey. Both appealed financial aid offers they received for Fairfield University.

The pair, the top two seniors at High School in the Community (HSC), shared their story in the Independent last month. The story elicited an outpouring of support from readers impressed by the students’ resilience and hard work. Some offered words of encouragement. Others sent in checks to the school, adding a few hundred dollars to defray college expenses. New Haven state Rep. Roland Lemar read the story and started making phone calls. Meanwhile, Solanlly and Chastity enlisted their teachers and other supporters in a letter-writing campaign.

The team effort worked: On Wednesday, the students, who left HSC in January to join an early college program, returned to their high school to share good news.

“We’re going to Fairfield!”