Thalia Vega ’19
If there is any characteristic that embodies the spirit of 2019 alumna Thalia Vega, it is an unrelenting belief in herself – both her abilities and potential.
It was this deep conviction that she could be successful that inspired Thalia to apply to Milton Hershey School after learning about the school from a cousin who graduated from there.
She was looking for a residential school where she could experience a steady home life. However, she knew there was no way her family could pay for private school. The fact that MHS covers all costs, provides students with all their necessities, and each student can accrue a continuing education scholarship gave Thalia hope.
At the time she applied, Thalia was living with her grandparents in Biglerville, a small town in Adams County, Pennsylvania. She was 14 years old and working at McDonald’s to save money for her dream of attending college. Before that, Thalia moved around a lot with family, including her mom, who had her when she was just 16.
Thalia had already attended 13 different schools, experienced homelessness, and witnessed abuse. She saw MHS as the opportunity to start over and set up opportunities for her future, including a path to college.
“It was a very difficult situation. We couldn’t afford things. I had to grow up so fast,” Thalia said while reflecting on her childhood. “I always wanted to do activities at school, but I couldn’t because all we did was move. By the time I got involved in something, it was time to move again. I was tired of it.”
When Thalia got the phone call she was accepted, she cried with joy. She wanted to be on campus as soon as possible so she spent the summer before her sophomore year living on the MHS campus and participating in its Year-Round Experiences (YRE) program. The program operates even when classes are not in session so students can take part in fun and educational activities in a safe environment.
Her three years at MHS gave her stability. It was the longest amount of time Thalia stayed in one place in her life. She even chose to remain on campus during all holidays and summer breaks, becoming a student YRE counselor so she could mentor younger children. At MHS, Thalia found supportive teachers and houseparents who believed in her as much as she believed in herself.
“My houseparents welcomed me with open arms and helped me through my struggles,” Thalia said. “They allowed me to start over. They allowed me to be part of their family by letting me in and taking care of me like their own. They gave me memories I’ll never forget.”
Thalia finally got to participate in the school activities she longed for, and she took advantage of every opportunity. She traveled to Peru through the school’s Multicultural and Global Education program—an experience that helped her develop a greater understanding of how others live and nurtured her passion for serving others. She learned to play the piano and guitar through the Visual and Performing Arts program and was a member of student government and the yearbook committee.
Through the Agricultural and Environmental Education program, Thalia was part of a team at the Spartan Ice Cream Center and worked with horses. Before graduating, she completed an internship with the World Affairs Council of Harrisburg and earned college credits that put her ahead when she started her four-year degree program.
She also had strong connections with several of her teachers at MHS, who she credits with getting her through tough times.
“They knew my situation. They made me feel comfortable even when I struggled. Without them, I don’t know what I would have done,” she said.
With a Continuing Education Scholarship from MHS, Thalia attended Arcadia University. She began as a criminal justice major but ultimately changed to education when she began questioning what she really wanted to do.
Thalia always saw herself in a role where she could help others. In fact, as a child she daydreamed about opening an orphanage. Several of her teachers encouraged her to become a teacher, citing the natural gifts she displayed at MHS when tutoring others and mentoring younger students through Junior Chapel, the Helping Hands program, and as a YRE counselor.
“Thalia has so many qualities that lend themselves to being a teacher,” said Kelly O’Brien, one of the MHS teachers who encouraged Thalia to pursue a career in education. “Even in high school, she was meticulous about her work and enthusiastic about learning. Her organization, ambition, and curiosity for learning were teacher-like qualities. She also worked in YRE in high school and as a college student. She was always so excited about being with the young MILT students, creating positive relationships, and encouraging their growth.”
These “teacher-like” qualities were on full display again while Thalia was in college and helping care for her younger siblings and cousins during the pandemic. While completing her own virtual classes, Thalia also helped them do the same. She put everyone on a schedule, from brushing their teeth to completing their schoolwork. Thalia credits the Senior Seminar class she took at MHS with preparing her for life after high school.
“That class really helped me. It taught me budgeting and finances. Without MHS, I would not have time management skills that I have,” she said.
In the spring of 2023, Thalia graduated cum laude from Arcadia with an early education degree. She is the first person in her family to graduate college. Impressed by her skills and dedication, the school where Thalia completed her student-teaching hired her as a part-time reading specialist while she finished her final spring semester in college. The school then offered her a full-time teaching position before college graduation.
Today, Thalia is a second-grade teacher at Lindley Academy Charter School in Philadelphia. She is focused on inspiring another generation of students to believe in themselves and creating a classroom environment where her students feel comfortable and supported.
Thalia shared, “I want to show them that someone is there for them—like my teachers were for me. Not all kids have a great family life. I want to be that person who is there for them.”
Since graduating from MHS, Thalia successfully advocated with her family to enroll her two younger sisters. She makes it a priority to play an active role in their lives, helping them navigate their struggles and embrace all the opportunities at MHS.
Thalia continues to dream and aspires to one day teach English overseas with the Peace Corps or use her life and work experience to become a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent. No matter what Thalia does she says it has to involve one thing, “a way to help other people.”