Yesenia Hanif, a Mineola High School sophomore, won $50,000 for...

Yesenia Hanif, a Mineola High School sophomore, won $50,000 for her education in Sweet 15: A Dream Achieved Contest. Credit: Mineola school district

A Mineola High School sophomore was the grand prize-winner and the recipient of a $50,000 scholarship in a contest that aims to inspire girls to showcase their academic skills.

Yesenia Hanif, 15, took first place among 1,000-plus applicants in the Sweet 15: A Dream Achieved contest, sponsored by the television  network Univision and ACT, the Iowa-based nonprofit test provider. While vying for the title, she was featured on Univision's morning show, "Despierta América."

Hanif said she entered the contest after her mother saw it mentioned on the Spanish-language morning show. The competition also seeks to provide financial assistance for students' postsecondary dreams, school officials said.

"I was freaking out," Hanif said of winning. "I'm very excited and grateful to know that I have a financial security blanket to allow me to achieve and pursue my goals without fear of college debts."

The contest required finalists to travel to Miami several times to compete in skill-based challenges, such as creating a webpage and interviewing a journalist, Hanif said. For winning, she also received a paid quinceañera, or celebration of her 15th birthday, in December. 

At school, Hanif is a varsity cheerleader, a peer tutor and a member of the TED-Ed Club, part of an international organization that helps students communicate their ideas.

"She's a quiet, unassuming and humble young lady, but she's powerful both inside and outside of the classroom," principal Whittney Smith said.

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