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Cesar Chavez Academy Graduate Shares Tips for Success in School

It wasn't easy being an all-star student in Detroit, but Elizabeth Morales persevered thanks to grit, dedicated parents and a community of supporters. Now, she is offering advice for students to follow in her successful steps.

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Maria Salinas, executive director of the Congress of Communities, remembers Morales hanging around at a young age. She knew then there was something special.

"I met her mother first, who was very active in the schools," Salinas says. "And then, around 15, Elizabeth became involved with the neighborhood initiative I was doing. She just seemed very ambitious, in-tune with her heritage and some of the other stuff that was going on. I took her under my wing and she became part of my youth program."

Salinas, who was born and raised in Southwest Detroit, also understands the stigma that comes from wanting to succeed in school.

"When you are put in an environment of an inner city of Detroit, where the barriers of peer pressure have existed for around 30 or 40 years, being educated wasn't cool. It wasn't the norm," Salinas says. "What people don't understand is that we have a lot of smart kids, but they haven't been educated properly. Some of them come from non-educated households, and I say that with all due respect."

Morales also volunteered at the Detroit Mexican consulate and at Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development – and tutored and mentored girls at Our Lady of Guadalupe Middle School in Detroit. Her sister, who also attends U-M, graduated from Detroit Cristo Rey High. She, too, made it a priority to succeed in and outside of the classroom.

"She took Latin for three years," Morales says. "She worked at the Detroit Science Center at the age of 14 and gave tours."

Educational future

Getting to U of M was a feat in itself for the older Morales. After high school, she went to UM-Dearborn before making the move to the main campus in Ann Arbor.

"I worked for three months on scholarship applications," Morales says. "I was crying every single night when I hit that 'send' button, because I was so frustrated. I hated it, but that's just what you had to do. I think I applied for at least 20 scholarships. I received three. That's the odds, and you have to know that."

Currently, Morales is applying for law school and preparing for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). She says she's not sure which university she'll end up at or what type of law she'll practice.

"I think I want to go into the judicial system," she says. "I worked with a juvenile detention center and it struck a chord."

Despite the uphill struggles Morales faced, she says things are getting better in the community. Friends who dropped out of high school have since returned to get their GED and are moving on to community college because "their biggest mission is to go to college. They don't want their kids to do what they did," Morales says.

An increase in parent involvement, like the one Morales had, also is playing a role. Salinas says in the last three years, the community has had more of that than there's been in a long time.

And if there's at least one thing Morales wants current Detroit students to understand, it is that sometimes, you have to go against the current.

"It's a lot easier to let yourself go and not do anything, rather than standing up against it," Morales says. "I think if enough people stand up against it, then it won't be so hard. Just try, and you can do it."

Top 5 Tips for High School Success

  1. "Be a pain in the butt. Tell everyone and anyone what you want to do, whether you want to go to college, be a musician or whatever it may be. Let your goals be known. Out of all those ears, one of those people will help you."
  2. "Know that where you come from is special. Know you're different, but you are special."
  3. "Get involved with extracurricular activities."
  4. "You have to want it. It doesn't matter if your parents want it for you or if a teacher sees potential in you; it has to be an intrinsic motivation."
  5. "There are little gems in Detroit that are so focused on kids. There's a lot of money and people out there who want to see them succeed. If kids knew how many invisible hands are trying to reach out to them, they'd feel like the most special people on earth."

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