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Basalt student will be a ‘first-gen’ college graduate

Jim Noyes
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Luis Morales is a senior Business major at the University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)
University of Colorado | University Communications

BASALT – “The last thing I remember my father saying to me was that I wasn’t going to amount to anything,” says Luis Morales.

That was many years ago when Morales, a 2008 Basalt High School graduate, was growing up in South Central Los Angeles. While Morales doesn’t show any obvious grudges from this slight, he is clearly driven to amount to something, to make a difference and to accomplish important things.

The journey has not been easy. Morales and his older brother and younger sister were raised by their single mom in a tough part of Los Angeles. He refers to it as a teaching zone, one where harsh lessons of life were taught while conventional classroom education was secondary.

“I guess I wasn’t a regular street kid because I really liked learning stuff. Some if it came from books and teachers. Some of it came from my mom, and some of it from my environment. In third grade, I was pretty sure I should be president of the United States.

“When I was 15, in 2006, my mom figured the best way to keep us out of trouble was to get out of town where new opportunities would show themselves. She picked Basalt, a shot in the dark and a long ride on the bus,” Morales said.

“It wasn’t a great start, as all our belongings got stolen, and we arrived only with the clothes we were wearing and a few things we happened to have with us.”

Moving from the streets of Los Angeles to a small-town school in the mountains was indeed a culture shock for a teenager. Morales, however, has always had the knack for finding a silver lining.

“It was the first day of school as a junior and I didn’t know anybody or anything, except that when a bunch of cute girls say, ‘Hey, come with us,’ I had the good sense to do it.

“It turned out to be the best decision I’d ever made, because that’s when I met Scott Gilbert, who was mentoring these kids in the Pre-Collegiate Program,” Morales said.

“College? Sure, it sounded like a great idea, but I didn’t have a clue how to get there.”

Gilbert has been a volunteer mentor and board member for Roaring Fork Re-1 Pre-Collegiate Program for most of its seven-year history. The program provides advice, counseling and programming for students who would be the first generation in their families to attend college.

It sports a 95 percent success rate in keeping Roaring Fork “First Gens” in school, graduating and going on to college.

“Scott was much more than just a mentor and a role model. He was like the stern dad with high expectations and the willingness to help out along the way. When you come from the ‘hood, you’re wary of just about everything, especially people you hardly know trying to help you,” Morales said

“But Scott helped me and inspired me, just because he could. That’s something I’m now doing for others and intend to continue doing.”

Morales was off to the races.

Chemistry teacher Ryan Wayt and creative writing teacher Timothy McNulty both made the learning process challenging and exciting.

But it was Adriana Ayala-Hire who did Morales his biggest favor. (At the time, Ayala-Hire was executive director of Pre-Collegiate. She is now the assistant principal at Basalt High School.)

“She asked me if I’d completed my application for a Daniels Scholarship. I hadn’t, I guess because I didn’t think I had a chance. She pulled me out of class and told me I wasn’t going home until I was finished.

“Daniels is a tough application with lots of difficult essays. While I finished, I was past the deadline a few hours and we had to get an extension,” he recalled.

Morales’ application made the first cut, which led to a rigorous personal interview process. In the end, he was awarded the scholarship, which assured that he could afford to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder.

He is set to graduate in fall 2012 with a focus on business marketing and international Spanish for the professions.

With a broad array of interests, Morales is also studying geopolitics, music, ethics and nutrition. Involved in many cross-cultural organizations and initiatives, Morales is confident in his aspirations.

“I’m going to be a CEO. I’m going to continue mentoring kids who, just like me, need a role model, someone to show them that they can.

“I am going to advocate for those who feel like the odds are against them. I want them to know that they are not alone in their striving to become better students and, more importantly, human beings,” he said.

“Someday, I’ll have a foundation that provides scholarship money for kids who can’t afford college. I’ve been given a lot and I’m going to give back.”

For those who have the good fortune to know Morales, it’s clear his aspirations are not just the dreams of a young adult. They are promises he will keep.


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