Nicole Carrasco-Cruz had two commencement ceremonies after graduating cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice — the first at UMass Lowell’s Tsongas Center. and the second a month later at Fenway Park in Boston.

Carrasco-Cruz was on the fabled Fenway field for a pregame ceremony with fellow Red Sox Scholars, a college success program funded by the Red Sox Foundation that awards a $10,000 college scholarship to 12 Boston Public School seventh graders each year. The Boston native found out she’d won the scholarship in 2013 as a middle school student at John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science.

“I was shocked when I got it, but also very proud of myself for accomplishing something at such a young age,” she says. “The scholarship opened doors for me. It changed the way I thought about school and my future — how I was going to apply myself.”

A first-generation college student from an immigrant family, Carrasco-Cruz says that she has known she wanted to go to college and become a lawyer since she was just 6 years old.

Besides giving her a $10,000 head start on her future college tuition, the Red Sox Scholars program also provided Carrasco-Cruz with support and mentorship throughout high school and college. She received help with her college applications, took field trips to area schools and received care packages during the pandemic.

“That support was worth more than the money,” she says. “Once you’re in, it’s like a family.”

Carrasco-Cruz wanted to attend a public university to minimize the financial strain on her single mom, Beltis Cruz. She also didn’t want a small school — and realized UMass Lowell was the perfect fit after her first visit to campus.

“I fell in love with the school, the staff and the people,” she says. “I knew this was the right environment for me, and I don’t regret my decisions one bit.”

Joining the River Hawk Scholars Academy helped Carrasco-Cruz adjust to college life. She spent the fall semester of her sophomore year studying in London and says she “enjoyed every single class” in the criminal justice program.

Carrasco-Cruz now plans to take the LSAT and apply to law school. Meanwhile, she is working at a small law firm in Boston where she began interning in high school.

Seeing her mom’s joy at not one, but two, commencement ceremonies “made all my hard work worth it,” Carrasco-Cruz says.

While it was “exhilarating” to hear cheers from thousands of people when her name was announced at Fenway, Carrasco-Cruz says the best part came after the ceremony, when strangers congratulated her as she walked around the stadium in her Red Sox cap and gown.

“It motivates you to accomplish something more — to go further in life,” she says.