Brenda Zamora-Chavez

Cleburne High School senior Brenda Zamora-Chavez, center, is now an honorary member of the James Hardie team, as the recipient of the new James Hardie Inclusion and Diversity Scholarship. Pictured with the honoree are, from left, Cleburne Plant Manager Asif Mohammad, Cleburne Human Resources Manager Marietta Montgomery, Waxahachie Human Resources Manager Laura Longoria and Inclusion and Diversity Scholarship Committee Member Doc Walker.

Cleburne High School senior Brenda Zamora-Chavez is one of six students nationwide to be named the recipient of the James Hardie Inclusion and Diversity Scholarship.

Representatives from the James Hardie Cleburne and Waxahachie operations surprised Zamora with the news of the $5,000 scholarship award — with $5,000 annually available for renewal for three additional years — before classmates, her teachers and CHS counselors. 

“This is a scholarship that is being piloted by James Hardie plants across the country,” committee member Doc Walker said. “As part of our commitment to being a globally diverse workplace that reflects the communities in which we operate and serve, we are excited to offer this new scholarship opportunity. We want to ease the financial burden on students, and their families, who wish to continue their education at the college level.”

“We were especially hopeful to hear from seniors with plans to major in engineering, finance, economics or business,” Walker said. “We had some great applicants from Cleburne High School. There’s a lot to this scholarship, which can ultimately result in $20,000. Our focus was on grades, community involvement and leadership, including an essay on what a college degree means to the student.”

Laura Longoria, who is a human resources manager with James Hardie operations in Waxahachie, said it was Zamora’s essay that put her high on the list of scholarship finalists. 

“She had us all in tears,” Longoria said. “She also did a wonderful job during the interviews with our top candidates. As our first-year honoree, she’s like the poster child for this scholarship. We are very proud to award this scholarship to her — and very proud of her.”

Zamora, who plans to attend The University of Texas to major in engineering, with a desire to continue on to study law, began contemplating her future in elementary school. 

“From the time I was at Santa Fe, my dreams and aspirations have been big,” she said. “I remember telling my Gifted and Talented teacher that I was going to be the President of the United States. My love for mathematics and my interest in legal studies have shifted that goal, and now I want to be an engineer and a lawyer.”

In the seventh grade, Zamora added “change agent” to her aspirations. 

“In middle school, I was the only Hispanic in my pre-AP classes,” she said. “It’s how I met a lot of the friends I have now. When I was a sophomore, I decided it was time to embrace my diversity. I didn’t see girls that looked like me in leadership positions, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and become ‘that’ person to inspire others to get involved and, hopefully, for people to look up to.”

“I just want to represent,” she said. “As I move on to college, I still plan to be as involved as I can. I want people to know me — and I want to know others.”

While her senior year has been a remarkable one, from her election to homecoming queen to this latest achievement, Zamora has stayed true to her vision of being “that” person — with the welcoming smile, who encourages others to join in. Zamora serves as an officer in National Honor Society and is a member of Beta Club, National Spanish Honor Society, Student Council and Exchangettes. 

She is also an academic leader at the top of her class. Like many of her fellow students, she has made some tough decisions when it came to reaching the goals she set for herself. 

“After three years of soccer, which is my passion, I gave it up in order to work as a waitress and save up for a car,” she said. “Just like a lot of my fellow students, I’ve had to stay up countless nights doing homework and school projects.” 

She credits support and encouragement from her parents and older sister, in striving to reach farther.

“My parents have always been very encouraging of our education,” she said. “They’ve always had really high expectations for us. I remember they would say how proud they were of us as we sat the table doing our homework.

“My dad works Monday to Saturday outside laying gas pipes in the Texas heat — and during those surprising days of cold winter. My mother is a house mom, but does side jobs here and there. I have never heard them complain about working — if anything, they are always thankful to God for having a job. I believe, in achieving a college degree, I will be able to help them. A college degree will mean that I have made it — I have reached success--and all the sacrifices my parents have made will be worth it.”

English/language arts teacher Piper Davis, who also serves as faculty sponsor of National Honor Society, was among the teachers present to see Zamora surprised with the James Hardie Inclusion and Diversity Scholarship.

“I have watched Brenda grow over the course of several years, following the summer after her sophomore year, when she volunteered with our PSAT team to improve her college entrance exam scores,” Davis said. “That was the first chance I had to see her incredible work ethic — but it wasn’t the last. She has worked tirelessly to not only improve herself and her college readiness, but has also helped others.”

“Brenda has a heart for service and she is a natural leader,” Davis said. “I have observed those qualities in her involvement in NHS and other activities. I am so proud to be able to call this young woman one of my students, but more than that, we are so lucky to have Brenda as part of our community. She has so much to give, and I cannot wait to see what her future holds.”

Jennifer Cox has closely witnessed Zamora’s journey through high school, as her school counselor since the ninth grade.

“Brenda is one in a million and holds such a special place in my heart,” Cox said. “She is one of the hardest working, dedicated students I have ever met. Her peers really look up to her. Brenda is going to change the world and she is very deserving of this scholarship.”

With graduation now days away, Zamora admits to battling some senioritis, with the light at the end of the tunnel well in view.

“I loved my freshman year — I think it was my best,” she said. “But now with graduation nearly here, It’s bittersweet that my 13 years of education in Cleburne is ending. Really, though, I’m ready to get on with things.”

As a change agent, Zamora believes that while she has worked hard on her mission for diversity as a student at CHS, there’s still work to be done.

“We still have a long road ahead of us before every student can feel included,” she said. “In the four years I have been here, I have tried my best to have a more diverse and welcoming campus. I hope that future students can continue with what has been my personal legacy, that will go with me to college — and into the world.”

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