Motivated to succeed: Morales brothers flourish with hard work

June 2019 Posted in Community, People, School

Luis and Eduardo Morales. Melissa Wagoner

By Melissa Wagoner

While other sixth graders were just trying to make it through middle school, Luis Morales was already planning for college. And not just getting into college, but getting into college and having it paid for through a Gates Millennium Scholarship, an award he learned about while attending 4-H summer camp.

During the camp, a motivational speaker, who happened to be a Gates Millennium Scholar, regaled the campers with stories of full college funding, which – awarded to low-income, minority students whose GPA, leadership qualities and writing abilities set them apart – would pay for a recipient’s college degree up to the doctorate level. Luis was intrigued – and not just by the award – but by the speaker, who had once been a kid, just like him.

“I think it was just the fact that he was also Latino and the fact that he was able to do that,” Luis said. “He said, ‘I’ve been trying since I was in middle school,’ and I was like, ‘I’m in middle school!’”

That encounter ignited a flame in Luis, who, in the beginning kept his goal private. Then one day he let his mom in on the secret and she, in turn, offered some sage advice.

“My mom was like, ‘I’m proud of you but if you don’t get it, don’t beat yourself up,’” he said, noting that the scholarship, which, at the time, accepted 52,000 applicants, only provided funding for 1,000 of them.

With these facts in mind, Luis was shocked when, during his senior year at Silverton High School, he received an award letter in his mailbox.

“I told my mom and she screamed,” he recalled. “It was a very memorable moment.”

That scholarship – which has made it possible for Luis to spend the past three years attending the University of Oregon, working toward a degree in Human Physiology with the goal of one day becoming a dentist – has had the unexpected benefit of also providing motivation for Luis’s younger brother, Eduardo, to earn similar accolades.

“It motivated me,” Eduardo said. “I was motivated about my brother and following those footsteps.”

Eduardo – who, like Luis, graduated as a valedictorian of his class – recently received a Ford Foundation Scholarship.

“[It] pays for 90 percent of undergrad and 80 percent of master’s, if I choose to do that,” Eduardo explained. “I’m going to the University of Oregon as well, to study accounting. I’m a numbers guy and the environment
for accounting was a lot better for me.”

Although Eduardo is quick to name Luis as his biggest motivation to succeed, both boys name their parents as their real mentors – particularly their father, Ramiro.

“He’s just the nicest person ever,” Luis said. “He’s really motivational. It’s crazy to see him wake up every morning with a smile on his face. He has the greatest heart ever.”

An immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico, Ramiro lost his mother when he was very young – an event which would eventually force him to leave school at the age of nine and find work in the tomato fields.

“It’s crazy for me to think of his working in the field that young – that hard life,” Luis said sadly.

Unable to attend school past the second grade level, both Ramiro and his wife Ofeila, have set about ensuring that each of their six children would have the opportunity to earn a high school diploma.

“They said, ‘We just want you to finish high school at least,’” Eduardo remembered. “They just trusted us and didn’t get mad.”

Although the Morales’ goal was merely to see their children graduate high school, Eduardo, Luis and their older sister, Juana – who recently received a master’s degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Seattle Pacific University – have gone above and beyond those expectations.

“My parents just showed their love whether we do these things or not,” Eduardo said of his parents reaction to their children’s accomplishments.

While both brothers agree that much of their success stems from strong family support, both acknowledge that attending Silverton High School contributed to their educational achievements.

“I just had some impactful teachers that checked up on me,” Eduardo said. “Like my math teacher, Miss Candee, she’s definitely a great person.”

“Having that support system at school is super, super helpful,” Luis agreed. “No matter what background you have, being able to find the resources and communicating with counselors and teachers, really branching out and trying to be involved in school – through that you gain so much knowledge about higher education.”

But communication isn’t always easy, Eduardo acknowledged. And, for students who – like the Morales brothers – are the children of immigrants and who may not be fluent English language speakers it can feel all but impossible.

“It means reaching out and asking questions,” Eduardo said, “especially first generations when their parents don’t know. They think it’s embarrassing or stressful but it’s OK to ask for help because if you don’t get the help it adds to the pile of stress. And it’s OK to ask friends – it’s all right because friends are meaningful. And the school staff really cares – it’s not that you’re taking things away, they’re happy to help.”

And for Luis – now dealing with college stresses of his own, miles away in Eugene – falling back on the support of his family, especially his mother, has been invaluable.

“When I’m stressed out and I get a text from her saying, ‘I really love you and I’m so proud,’ and it’s like – OK, let’s get it together and study.”

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