SANDY HOOK, Ky. -- The will of a determined young man to do whatever it took to make it to college gained national attention - and a collegiate surprise from Katie Couric.
Luis Loza has a history of achievement in academics and sports like baseball and soccer. He had a lot going for him while growing up in rural Elliot County, but for more than a decade he was never able to share his success stories with his mother because she was thousands of miles away.
His mother went to Mexico 13 years ago to visit family and was unable to return to the states.
Pauline Campbell adopted Loza and his older brother, and raised them as her own boys.
"His mom wanted me to keep them for six weeks and she got there and she couldn't come back," Campbell said.
Loza spent his most recent summer working on a farm to save money for his freshman year of college.
"I can't explain what it was like working in that heat," he said. "You got really thirsty, you sweated a lot. Me and my coworker didn't wear long sleeves and we were covered in hay, so the possibility of doing this (wiping sweat from his forehead) was not an option."
When Couric announced the finalists as winners, celebratory confetti fell from the sky. A surprised Loza grabbed his own face and began applauding with pure joy.
"It was a huge weight cut off my shoulders," Loza said. "It cut my loans in half. Instead of $80,000 it was now $40,000 I would have to pay back."
Now enrolled at Northern Kentucky University, 20-year-old Loza studies engineering and takes citizen naturalization classes. His short-term goal might be to continue his good grades, but his long-term goal moves beyond the classroom.
"With my education and career I hope to make my adoptive family and real family come together and be one," he said.