Andres Morales was the first in his family to go to high school. And Andres did more than attend — he excelled. He is one of the highest achieving seniors graduating from Caldwell High School this month.
His education is far from over. Thanks to a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant, Andres also will be the first in his family to go to college. The son of Mexican immigrants will attend Washington State University, pursuing his dream of becoming an electrical engineer.
“I’ve always known that I’m going to be somebody, I want to be somebody, and that takes a lot of work,” Andres said. “I have a really crazy work ethic — it’s the credit to my success.”
Andres received a Gates Millennium Scholarship, an all-expenses paid trip to the college of his choice. The scholarship is awarded to 1,000 students every year in a highly demanding, competitive process. Applicants are required to write eight 1,000-word essays and prove leadership skills, academic success and community service.
“I wasn’t even going to do it,” Andres said. “But I found myself in a really creative place and everything was just coming to me. I’m a pretty good storyteller. Plus I put my phone away for a week.”
Petya Stoyanova Johnson, a Caldwell educational specialist, assisted and edited Andres’ scholarship work.
“I’m so proud of him because it’s such a lengthy and time-consuming process,” Johnson said. “This opened doors he never thought possible.”
Andres wasn’t going to college without help.
His parents were born in Mexico and began working their way to the United States as teenagers. Morales’ mother, Rosa, speaks very little English and sells makeup door to door. His father, Antonio Morales, drives a taco truck and serves breakfast and lunch in the parking lots of Caldwell businesses. Andres has two younger sisters at home. He’s only once met two older half-brothers and his family doesn’t know where they are.
As a freshman, Andres enrolled in a Caldwell program called TRIO, which promotes post-secondary educational pursuits to students from low-income homes or students whose parents did not graduate from college. The classes teach teens how to apply for scholarships and colleges and universities and make them aware of opportunities. Teachers in Andres’ TRIO classes steered him down a path toward college.
“I remember thinking, I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know they can help me,” he said.
They helped him select college-prep classes, start community service projects and manage his time effectively.
“I rarely sleep and I have to get homework done during the school day,” said Andres, who spent the traditional “Senior Skip Day” reading books to elementary kids to fulfill community service promises.
On top of a full classload, Andres works about 40 hours a week at three minimum-wage jobs. He shares a portion of his earnings with his parents, saves a little and uses the rest for his clothing and car expenses.
“I also like to buy presents for my mom,” he said.
Most seniors have five classes. Andres has seven, including a “zero hour” AP calculus class.
“He has a smile every morning and he’s enthusiastic to learn … at 6:50 in the morning,” said his calculus teacher Laurel Williams. “He’s just one of those cool kids you just love to have in class.”
In addition to AP calculus, Andres is excelling in AP political philosophy, engineering, conceptual physics, student council, a dual-credit English class and he’s a TRIO aide to underclassmen. His cumulative GPA is better than the 3.3 required for Gates Millennium Scholarship winners.
“I want to study electrical engineering in college because I’m pretty good at it,” he said.
He built a stereo for his senior project.
“He’s very curious and just wants to learn,” said physics teacher Mel Hensman. “He’s self-driven and self-motivated. No one has to provide that for him.”
Morales initially was going to the University of Idaho on academic and need scholarships. But with the Gates scholarship, he is following his dream of attending Washington State.
“I attended a conference at Washington State and the second I arrived, I just felt something. I felt this is where I need to be,” Andres said. “I’m a pretty social person and this campus can create more opportunities for my future.
“I’m going to be somebody.”