Angela Cervantes said two little scholarships made a big difference in her life -- they allowed her to attend Kansas University during the early '90s.
On Saturday, Cervantes -- a poet, women's shelter volunteer and a Latina -- addressed about 150 people as keynote speaker at the 24th annual multicultural graduation banquet in the Ballroom at the Kansas Union.
"What astounds me sometimes is that if it hadn't been for two little scholarships I wouldn't be here today," Cervantes said.
"It bothers me when people say, 'You can't throw money at a problem. I believe you can, and you do so with a scholarship."
The problem Cervantes said she was talking about was the underrepresentation of minorities in higher education, a problem that extended to professional fields such as medicine, law and social work.
Saturday's banquet honored some of the African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American and American Indian students who will walk down Campanile Hill and graduate from KU today.
After her graduation, Cervantes said, she made a list of what made her happy. She encouraged the 2000 graduates to do the same.
"Find out what you love because it places your decisions in perspective," she said.
Cornel Pewewardy, assistant professor of education and master of ceremonies, also spoke about the underrepresentation of minorities in higher education. He opened the banquet with an American Indian instrumental piece about healing, which he said still was needed.
"Many of us know there's ups and downs in our lives and we too many times reflect on our past," Pewewardy said.
Chancellor Robert Hemenway said in his welcome that events like Saturday's banquet were part of the aim to make the university truly universal.
"We have a good illustration here tonight of what has to happen at the university," Hemenway said. "We need fewer people that look like me and have my haircut."