In March, Jennifer Covahey sat in her guidance counselor's office at Southern High School and sobbed uncontrollably after finding out she had won a college scholarship.
After years of crying from witnessing her parents battle drug and alcohol addictions, these tears were different -- life had suddenly turned sweet.
Last night, the good news became official. At the fourth annual Baltimore Incentive Awards dinner, Covahey was among the nine recent Baltimore high school graduates honored with full scholarships to attend the University of Maryland, College Park for four years.
The program chooses students who have shown remarkable ability to thrive despite being faced with overwhelming adversity, and was started in hope of creating a bridge between Baltimore public schools and the University of Maryland, College Park, said Jacqueline Wheeler, director of the scholarship program.
The program is "important because the university really doesn't have a connection with Baltimore public schools," Wheeler said.
"It's also important because we know that there are good students in ... Baltimore public schools but they don't have the means or the resources to compete," she added. "What we're doing is creating opportunities where there otherwise would be none."
For Covahey, who just turned 18, the chance to receive a college education has long been a dream.
In 2001, she decided to move away from her parents and live with her grandfather and aunt. She said she had been frustrated for years when her parents left her and her siblings at home alone while they went out to bars.
"I couldn't stay in that atmosphere," Covahey said.
She said that her grandfather and aunt encouraged her to work as hard as she could to achieve her goals.
"Without them, I don't know if I would have been able to handle it," she said.
Most nights, Covahey had to force her drooping eyelids open to study and finish homework from earlier in the day.
While she said luck is partly the reason as to why she is receiving a full scholarship, her grandfather said the answer has to do with more than luck.
"She's a dedicated, hard-working girl," William Covahey said. "I told her not to let people talk you into anything. She doesn't drink or smoke. Her desire is to get a good education and become independent."
Mallory Watkins, another incentive award recipient, graduated Sunday from Southwestern High School.
Throughout high school, Watkins said, sports served as his outlet.
Despite spending some time in foster care as a child and having parents who abused drugs, he said he has plenty to celebrate.
"Sports really helped me because it gave me something to really focus on," he said.
"But as much as I like sports, it was my grandmother who pushed me and told me not to be discouraged," Watkins added.
Nine city public high schools have been chosen to participate in the incentive award program, Wheeler said. But the university has not ruled out expanding its program to include more schools.
Cassandra Robinson, assistant director of university communications, said the scholarship covers the student's annual costs for up to four years. Those annual costs -- tuition, fees, room and board -- are estimated at nearly $19,000.
Watkins, who plans to major in electrical engineering, said he was ecstatic when he found out he would be going to college for free.
Here are the nine students who received Baltimore Incentive Awards and four-year scholarships to the University of Maryland, College Park:
Bridget Blount - Western.
Olivia Coates - City College.
Jennifer Covahey - Southern.
Anna Kalmykov - Polytechnic Institute.
Shiron Lindsay - Polytechnic Institute.
John Sanders - Northwestern.
George Small - Northwestern.
Darian Scott-Carter - Dunbar.
Mallory Watkins - Southwestern.
Westside and W.E.B. Dubois also participate in the program, but no graduates won the award this year.