By Nick Maglione
There’s an old saying about the value of energy and persistence in overcoming adversity. Third-year Commerce student Leslie Oviedo is living proof of this enduring truth. Hailing from Houston, Oviedo has navigated life’s challenges with aplomb, earning her place at the University, where she’s the recipient of the Matt and Sharla Wilson Bicentennial Scholarship.
Growing up, Oviedo was rarely certain about her future. The daughter of a hardworking single mom who worked demanding jobs for little pay, she knew her prospects for a college education were slim. Oviedo channeled the uncertainty into her studies, achieving high marks and embracing extracurricular life at the charter high school she attended.
Staying at school late into the afternoon most days, Oviedo would tend to her activities while her mom trekked across town to wait in the parking lot—often for hours—to take her home. While her mother was seldom able to provide financial support, she was deeply committed to supporting Oviedo academically.
“My mom was so understanding and flexible,” she said. “It was really difficult at the time, but she was always willing to go the extra mile for me, and we laugh about it now. She says she enjoyed it.”
Through their shared commitment, Oviedo caught the attention of the Posse Foundation, for which the University is one of six Houston partner institutions. She immediately zeroed in on UVA due to its strength in research and the reputation of the McIntire School of Commerce, which a guidance counselor informed her was one of the best of its kind in the nation. Oviedo was thrilled to learn she’d been accepted.
While her experience as a first-year student was defined largely by COVID-19 and online classes, Oviedo wasted no time in making the most of the return to in-person activities during her second year. In addition to serving as a peer mentor, she helped international students perfect their English as part of VISAS (Volunteers with International Students, Staff, and Scholars); interned with the International Rescue Committee; and participated in COLA, the Cultural Organization for Latin Americans. She also landed a part-time job at Cavalier Connect, a crucial achievement that enabled her to buy groceries, textbooks, and tickets for trips home to Texas.
One day, in reviewing an updated financial aid statement, Oviedo was shocked to discover she’d been awarded the Matt and Sharla Wilson Bicentennial Scholarship. The award enabled her to leave her post at Cavalier Connect—a move she regards as bittersweet—and focus fully on her academics.
“It took so much weight off my shoulders,” she said. “I was finally in a position to not have to worry so much about simple necessities that I was struggling to get. I don’t think people understand just how much of a difference scholarships can make for people like me.”
In March, Oviedo was accepted into the prestigious McIntire School of Commerce. She hopes to one day pursue a career that combines her commercial ambitions with a means of giving back to her community in Houston. She’s grateful for her scholarship and thanks her benefactors with characteristic Texas charm.
“I’d love to give them a big old hug,” she said. “I’d tell them how much they helped me and changed my life.”
This story was first published on the University of Virginia Giving site.