Creating College Dreams - Guillermo Morales '94

Guillermo Morales '94 looks at the college pendants hanging in the hallway of Thomas Jefferson Elementary School (San Leandro, Calif.).

For students from lower income neighborhoods, the idea of attending college is often a foreign one.

Guillermo Morales ’94 was one of those kids, growing up in San Francisco’s Mission District, but was fortunate to find his way to Saint Mary’s. After nearly a quarter century working as an educator at lower income schools in the Bay Area, his goal continues to be giving those kids the same opportunities.

“I was very thankful for the opportunities I got in school, that I was able to go to Saint Mary’s and I knew there were a lot of people I grew up with that didn’t get those opportunities,” he said. “I left behind a couple of friends because they didn’t go to college and I wanted to make sure when I got into school none of these kids were left behind.”

But teaching was not something that was even on Morales’ mind while at Saint Mary’s and, in fact, he fell into it while volunteering at J. Eugene McAteer High School in San Francisco.

“Blessing or a curse, I was asked to work in this one teacher’s classroom,” Morales said. “This teacher was teaching English and video production, which is what I studied at Saint Mary’s. It just so happened two or three weeks into me volunteering in this classroom, the teacher was let go. The principal at the time (you couldn’t do this today) pretty much said, ‘Do you want the job?’ ‘Sure!’”

Jumping right in, his Saint Mary’s education presented itself and helped transform the classroom. Guillermo Morales '94 has been seen as a "Superman" to his students and they have given him "Superman" memorabilia over the years.

“One of the things [Saint Mary’s] helped me with was becoming more vocal in the classroom, understanding that I actually had a voice, understanding I had something to contribute to our understanding of one of the Great Books we were reading in Seminar class,” he said. “What I found was, when I started teaching, how much my Saint Mary’s education had prepared me to be a teacher. I would tell my students when I would set up our Socratic seminars, ‘Well, why are we doing this’ because my class looked different than the other high school English classes did and what I would tell them is my story. ‘Hey, you know, I thought I was a good student. Then I go to Saint Mary’s and I had to find my voice.’’

His impact and connection with students can be seen on his Facebook account, where he says most of his 1,300 “friends” are former students.

“Seeing them go off to college, hearing about the success they’ve had in college, that’s what is prideful for me,” Morales said. “When I can see these where these kids went. Not to say I’m the reason for that but I like to think I played a small part in that.”

Twenty-two years of high school service later, he is now at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in San Leandro and is trying to develop that college culture.

“One of the reasons I’m here now, I wanted to go ahead and build a college-going culture at the elementary school level,” Morales said. “We’re almost 70 percent Latino students, we are a Title I school, this is the population that traditionally doesn’t see itself going to college. I wanted to work with this population, with the students, with the teachers, and the parents to make them start believing at an early age that, yeah, college is for you.”