When El Salvador was facing violence and economic turmoil in the late 1990s following a bloody civil war, a 9-year-old Luis Rosales (MSB ’18) was brought to the United States by his parents.
“There was a lot of violence and economic turmoil. A lot of the times, they read cases where young kids were recruited to gangs. They didn’t like what was happening there, so to seek a better life and chase the American dream, they came to the U.S.,” Rosales said.
This Wednesday marked Rosales’ first day of classes at Georgetown, which he attends on a full-ride scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. An immigrant who was brought to the United States illegally, Rosales transferred to Georgetown from Montgomery College in Maryland.
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation provides 75 financially struggling community college students with scholarships worth up to $45,000 annually to transfer to four-year universities. The foundation received more than 2,300 applications before making a final decision.
In addition to providing scholarships to transfer students, the foundation also provides scholarships to middle school students, high school seniors and graduate students.
According to Rosales, his family had a difficult time building a better life in the United States due to the family’s lack of a legal immigration status.
“Being undocumented immigrants, they couldn’t really work, so for a little while my family struggled economically. I didn’t think I could go to school at all. I didn’t think I could afford it or go through it,” Rosales said.
In 2012, President Barack Obama passed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which shields young people who were brought to the United States at a young age from deportation and gives them the ability to work and go to school legally.
Thanks to DACA, Rosales was able to obtain a full-tuition scholarship to Montgomery College, where he attended the honors business school and received his associate degree.
Despite the obstacles he faced, Rosales has a long list of notable personal and academic achievements. Upon entering Montgomery, he was very involved with student government and the honors business program, and he established a chapter at the League of United Latin American Citizens, an organization dedicated to advancing the Hispanic population in the country.
During his sophomore year in 2015, he was appointed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to Montgomery College’s board of trustees as the student representative, where he represented over 60,000 students.
“At the end of my sophomore year, I applied for Jack Kent Cooke after having done all of these things,” Rosales said. “It’s very competitive, so I cried when I got it. Getting into Georgetown was one thing, but paying for it was another, so it made my dreams a reality.”
Cooke Foundation Executive Director Harold O. Levy said the scholarship provides opportunities for students of very high caliber, like Rosales, who otherwise would not be able to attend four-year colleges.
“The Cooke Foundation’s undergraduate transfer scholars have a long record of success at the most selective colleges and graduate schools, such as the Ivy League in the United States and the University of Oxford in Great Britain,” Levy said in a statement. “These extraordinary young people have proven repeatedly and conclusively that top community college students have the ability to thrive in top four-year colleges. They deserve equal educational opportunity.”
In recent years, the Georgetown community has made a growing effort to welcome students who lack legal immigration status to the university. In December of 2010, University President John J. DeGioia spoke out and expressed his strong support of the DREAM Act on WAMU, an NPR-affiliated radio station.
“At Georgetown, students who meet the DREAM Act criteria are campus leaders and role models for their generation. They are pursuing challenging majors, are actively engaged in campus organization and regularly participate in community service,” DeGioia said.
More recently, Georgetown launched a website in April officially institutionalizing support for these students and the resources available on campus.
In a letter sent in August to incoming freshmen and transfer students, UndocuHoyas, a campus organization dedicated to serving undocumented students since 2010, expressed its support for these students.
“Getting to college is difficult, but not as difficult as it is for undocumented students. Whatever hardships you have had to endure, you made it this far now. You should be proud of your accomplishments and strength. Your perseverance is admirable and an incredible addition to the Georgetown community,” the letter reads.
Rosales’ roommate James Linn (MSB ’18) said he is inspired by his story.
“Moving into my sophomore year, I was inspired by Luis’ attitude and I learned of his background and story. Being the humble guy he was, I had not previously known that he had overcome a great deal of adversity to be able to attend Montgomery College,” Linn said. “Despite that, he made a point to encourage and support me as a friend. Now at Georgetown, I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate. I’m excited to be entering this chapter of my life knowing I’ll have a friend to encourage, support and inspire me along the way.”
For Rosales, coming to Georgetown is more than just a personal achievement — it is also a responsibility.
“To me, [coming to Georgetown] means that not only can you achieve the things that you work hard for, but also that I — and all other undocumented students who have gotten the chance to attend a four-year university — have a responsibility to voice the issues of those who weren’t as fortunate as we were and speak for them because there are many other students who work hard but didn’t get these opportunities and would have loved to,” Rosales said. “So, it gives me a sense of responsibility to use my education to help others.”
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