Homeless only a few weeks ago, a shy young scholar evoked tears and received far-ranging tributes at the start of the Coral Gables City Commission meeting on Wednesday, June 30.
Jessica Herrera, 18, led the chamber in the Pledge of Allegiance, which was followed by the recent NBC 6 segment that documented her odyssey as a homeless student for most of her senior year at Coral Gables Senior High.
Despite the challenges, Jessica graduated this spring in the top 10 percent of her class with a 5.5 GPA and a package of scholarships to Florida International University.
As word of her achievements spread, so did an outpouring of support, culminating with her appearance at City Hall to recite the pledge.
“As we head into the Fourth of July weekend, if you want to know what America is all about, here it is, standing in front of you,” Mayor Don Slesnick said with tears in his eyes. “Jessica, congratulations.”
Vice Mayor William H. Kerdyk Jr., chairman of the Bank of Coral Gables, presented Jessica with a decorative box stuffed with letters of support, which streamed in from across the United States and Mexico. Donors have sent some $6,600 into a special account for her, Mr. Kerdyk said.
Coral Gables attorney Alfonso J. Perez, president of the Academy of South Florida, then presented Jessica with a brand new Asus laptop computer. He was joined by Kerrie Martinez, student services, Academy of South Florida, and Katie-Britt Greenway, corporate relations, Academy of South Florida.
“It’s overwhelming how generous everyone has been,” Jessica said afterward. “I just want to thank everyone. It means a lot to me.”