We all like to have choices. Thanks to NHS, one young student is now attending the college of her choosing after winning the national NHS Scholarship.

“I grew up knowing I wanted to go to college, but not being able to pay for it meant I had to work even harder,” says Jenny Rodriguez, winner of the 2018 National Honor Society (NHS) Scholarship. She shared that the NHS Scholarship made it possible “to attend the college of my choice.” Now a freshman at American University, Rodriguez is studying political science and hopes to make the world a better place.

Rodriguez was celebrated on September 26, at an event overlooking the Capitol in Washington, D.C. CNN Senior Washington Correspondent Joe Johns moderated a conversation between Rodriguez and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). A group of philanthropists, corporate leaders, education leaders, and alumni gathered to listen and honor Rodriguez’s accomplishments.

A native of Orange, NJ, Rodriguez graduated this past June from Orange High School where she founded the O-TEAM (Today’s Educational Advisory Members). She remains passionate about her community and community service. The four pillars of NHS—leadership, service, scholarship, and character—have always been a part of Rodriguez’s life, demonstrated by her involvement in various organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. She has also held multiple roles to support her community as a tutor and youth group leader, as well as participated in a mission trip with her parish to Ecuador—her parents’ home country.

During the event, Rodriguez shared how she and her family were completely surprised when she found out she was the national winner of the NHS Scholarship. Orange High’s NHS Chapter Adviser Marcey Thomas first found out about Rodriguez’s national scholarship award and kept it a secret from her until the day of the announcement in April. Thomas has said that it was the hardest thing she’s had to do as NHS chapter adviser! As vice president of her chapter, Rodriguez was integral to the service projects and community-building efforts at Orange High, such as supporting Project Linus, a nonprofit organization that provides warm blankets to children in need.

“I am blown away by Jenny and her accomplishments. I’m really proud of her, and so inspired by her. This is what life is about,” says Sen. Booker (NHS alumnus from Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan, NJ). “She prepared for this opportunity, and because of her preparation, more doors opened. And this incredible blessing came. I just want to say to NHS, what you’re doing, especially the scholarship, is incredible. You are planting seeds that will yield a harvest beyond our imagination.”

At the event, NASSP Executive Director and NHS Fund Board of Directors’ President JoAnn Bartoletti announced the dedication of $20 million over the next 10 years to the NHS Scholarship Fund—a 20 percent increase in scholarships from last year.

This growth means that every year, starting with the class of 2019, at least 600 high school students and members of NHS will be closer to achieving their college dreams.

“The kind of leadership that Jenny and our other winners have demonstrated is the very leadership the NHS nurtures in high school,” says Wayne Firestone, CEO of the NHS Scholarship Fund. “We all need to invest in their future—in our American future.”

“Hard work pays off,” Rodriguez says. “The scholarship changes everything for students like me.”