June 29, 2012 – Alberto Morales (NHS’12) grew up in a predominately Latino neighborhood in south side Chicago, where it was “cooler” to be a gang chief than a college student.
“In the area where we grew up, it was dangerous because there is a lot of gang life,” says Morales. “When I was in eighth grade and saw a lot of classmates entering gangs, I just didn’t understand.”
“They were exposed to the same programs that I was ...,” he explains, “but then I realized that many of them were pressured into the gangs, many by their own family members.”
Emphasis on Education
Morales later attended Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, where he focused on preparing for college.
He says it was his parents who kept him on the right track. Gilberto and Silvia Morales immigrated from Acambaro Guanajuato, Mexico to Chicago in 1987 and had Morales two years later.
“They left Mexico, because even though both of them are college educated, they got disillusioned and disheartened at how difficult the economic situation was,” their son says.
His parents’ emphasis on education led Morales to attend Georgetown as part of the Georgetown Scholarship Program (GSP), which provides eligible students with scholarships made possible by alumni supporters, parents and friends.
GSP students often are the first in their families to attend college, and the program provides resources and opportunities to help participants succeed at the university and beyond.
He’s now getting the chance to help current and future GSP students this summer as the program’s new coordinator.
“I love the work I’ve done with GSP,” the alumnus says.
During his time at Georgetown, Morales made immigration reform and education two of his main focuses in life.
He got involved with the university chapter of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) and began to build an awareness of his own culture, identity and the need for immigration reform.
MEChA is a national student organization designed to raise consciousness, pride and activism among Chicano students and those of Mexican descent.
Morales spearheaded a MEChA event during his sophomore year that highlighted the plight of undocumented students in the United States and supported the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act.
The Dream Act never passed in Congress, but in mid-June, Obama announced that undocumented immigrants who came to America as children will be able to remain in the country to work or go to school without fear of being deported.
“I worked hard to learn about the issues,” Morales says. “A lot of people care about immigration, and it doesn’t just affect Latinos.”
He also organized a march and led more than 125 Georgetown students to the National Mall in 2010 to advocate for immigration reform along with about 100,000 other activists.
When the Georgetown chapter of MEChA hosted the annual conference in 2009, Morales took the opportunity to use his Chicago connections to get U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to speak to students. Prior to becoming education secretary Duncan had served as chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools.
“One of my proudest moments was working endless hours to bring him to campus, and I can remember the resounding applause when he said he would continue fighting for better educational opportunities for Latinos and work with President Obama to push the DREAM Act,” he recalls.
Morales says education and immigration issues remain important to him.
“I would love to go to law school and eventually return to Chicago to make more of a difference through education,” he says.