Karina Juarez admitted she was nervous when her Chick-fil-A manager asked her to come into the restaurant on March 17 because someone from its corporate headquarters wanted to talk to her.
“For me, it was like ‘Am I in trouble?’” she said. “I have never talked to corporate or anything like that, so I was like I must’ve done something really bad or really good.”
Juarez arrived at the Chick-fil-A Gate City in Greensboro, where she has worked for almost two years, and took a seat in front of a computer. The 18-year-old UNC Greensboro freshman thought she was there to attend a virtual retreat about ways to better serve guests.
However, Chick-fil-A Chairman and CEO Dan Cathy interrupted the virtual retreat shortly after it started. He surprised Juarez by informing her that she was one of 12 Chick-fil-A employees from across the country to win a $25,000 college scholarship.
Juarez started crying, and then she called her mother to tell her in Spanish, “I won a scholarship” (see the video here). She shared the news with her father while he was at work. It left him speechless.
Born and raised in Greensboro, Juarez is a first-generation college student. She started taking classes at UNCG in the fall, and she plans to use her scholarship from Chick-fil-A to pay for tuition and earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.
“First of all, it was a surprise. It just came out of nowhere,” she said. “Second of all, I didn’t think I was going to win it. So to win it, for me, was very emotional. Of course, they were tears of joy, but still like, wow, I did this.”
Juarez said she has known since she was a kid that she wanted to someday become a nurse. Her grandfather, Edmundo Arredondo, was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer and lived in the same apartment with Juarez and her family.
When she was almost 3 years old, Juarez enjoyed bringing her grandfather his medication, pushing him around in his wheelchair, and fixing his oxygen tank. She sat next to him in bed and often fell asleep by his side.
“You know how some scientists say that they don’t remember much before 3? But I remember that, and I feel like I was meant to remember that,” Juarez said. “I feel like that memory for me was like the memory that I knew this is what I want to do. I want to help others. Whoever needs my help I want to do that for them.”
Juarez got a part-time job at Chick-fil-A during her senior year at Ragsdale High School in Jamestown. She started as a cashier before moving her way up to working the drive-thru and cooking in the kitchen.
Juarez typically works 25-30 hours per week at Chick-fil-A in the summertime, but she has cut back over the past few months to focus on her freshman year at UNCG. Her Human Anatomy course keeps her busy enough as it is.
Juarez had already received a $2,500 scholarship from Chick-fil-A before she applied for the $25,000 scholarship in December. She wasn’t too optimistic about her chances of winning it, but her mother encouraged to apply anyway.
“This is all very new to me,” Juarez said of being a first-generation student. “I want to encourage others with the scholarship that I got not only to say, ‘Oh wow, she got a scholarship.’ But if I can do it, others can do it as well. It doesn’t matter if your parents went to high school or college or not, but if you have all the resources, then you can make it.”
Story by Alex Abrams, School of Nursing
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications