The 5,000+ extraordinary individuals who comprise the Coca-Cola Scholar family each come from different backgrounds, are fueled by different passions and live by different definitions of success. But one thing is certain: All of them want to help shape the future of a better world. By connecting with their communities, striving for personal and professional growth, and giving back at every opportunity, they embody the spirit of Coca-Cola’s commitment to make a positive difference in the world. As we celebrate our 25th class we'd like to share the remarkable journeys of some of our Scholars. Read their stories »

Against All Odds

April 2, 2013

Guillermo Morales had to overcome more obstacles than most to get to college. His parents were from Mexico, where his mother traveled five hours to the nearest college to become a teacher. She was pregnant with Guillermo when she crossed illegally into the U.S., risking her life and his so he could be born here. As a child he spoke only Spanish and knew no English when he started kindergarten in Oklahoma City.

When he got to middle school, Guillermo faced a prevalent gang culture – 80-90% of students at his school were involved in gangs. “Like any other teenage kid, I wanted to fit in,” he remembers, “so my friends and I got exposed to gang activities when we were really young. I was in lots of fights, trying to stand out in middle school.”

In high school, things got worse. He began to hang around with older gang members. “We were those people you see in movies and on the news,” he explains. One of his friends was arrested for murder and several were kicked out of school and wound up in jail.

“I realized things were getting out of control,” he says. “I could see the pain I was causing in my family as they were struggling with me. I couldn’t go anywhere by myself because I would be at risk. There were people out there with guns. I was scared for my family and it hit me that this is not a life to live; there was nothing fun about it. By my junior year in high school I realized one of my teachers was right when she told me I would either end up in jail or dead. At that point, those were my only two options.”

“People told me that college is not for Hispanics like me, but I proved them wrong.”

He knew he had to change, but the gang culture was all he’d known. He essentially had to give up his identity and stop being who he was. It was far from easy. Fortunately, he had always gotten good grades in school and had supportive teachers who told him he could do much better. He began to focus more on working in school during the day and at his uncle’s restaurant at night to help his parents pay bills. With Sunday as his only day off, he managed to stay out of trouble.

During his senior year, Guillermo began to talk about going to college and he applied for scholarships. He also began to voice his dream of working for NASA. When he went to Atlanta for Scholars Weekend, he was at first uncomfortable being around the top scholars, but then he began to think that maybe he belonged with them after all. He came back home more motivated and entered Oklahoma University that Fall.

“From the time I applied for the scholarships to the time I got to the university, everything happened so fast,” he explains. “I have to honestly say that God had a better plan for me – there was no way I could have made all those good things happen by myself.”

Guillermo chose to go into aerospace engineering and was shocked at the challenges he faced. “I graduated from high school with over a 4.0 average, but I was not prepared for what I needed to be an engineering student. My high school was really small and we did not have the resources for that kind of education,” he recalls.

“What the school did teach me, though, was if you work hard, you can achieve whatever you want. My teachers and principal prepared me for the fact that it’s not easy, but I could do it.”

He was behind from the start, but he stuck it out through tough engineering courses. “I kept telling myself I didn’t come here to graduate in four years, I came here to be an aerospace engineer. I pushed myself and eventually I learned to love the challenges and realize that’s what it takes to be an engineer.”

He did achieve his dream through a summer internship at NASA Langley. He also immersed himself in campus organizations that advocated for Hispanics and he participated in undergraduate research. Because of his Coca-Cola Scholarship, Guillermo didn’t have to hold a job while he was in college. He was able to focus on his coursework and giving back to his campus.

“When I got to NASA Langley, I met a Coca-Cola Scholar and it opened my eyes to the impact the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation has,” he says. “They are doing something right in selecting strong leaders who are doing amazing things. With this huge network of people, we can truly say Coca-Cola people are changing the world.”

Today, on the eve of his college graduation, Guillermo says he is overwhelmed and humbled to think about what his family and others have done to help him get where he is. “People told me that college is not for Hispanics like me, but I proved them wrong. If you stay focused and dedicated to what you believe in, great things will happen.”


  • Dago Garcia says:

    Congratulations! You are a true inspiration to many. You have made ODPhi Nation very proud!

    Like (7)

  • Raul says:

    Blessings like yours are to be shared and paid forward. Remember that you are a role model. What you accomplish with your blessings should not change you, but you must change the world
    Dr. Font

    Like (10)

  • Miriam says:

    So proud of our young Latino ODPHI men in Oklahoma, a true leader and inspiration to all. Very proud of all your efforts and your commitment to volunteering in the community. Thank you for all your hard work!

    Like (5)

  • Rennie Berry says:

    You are a young man determined to compete and win!! You are the kind of forward thinking person, that makes a difference. Do not forget where you came from.
    Rennie J. Bery

    Like (5)

  • Teri Coles says:

    I am so very proud of you and always knew you had “the goods”! I think of you frequently, especially when I see a young person who reminds me of you – dedicated to excellence, seeking answers, and not resting until the job is done. Well done Willy, very well done.

    Like (4)

  • S. Harriman says:

    You give us much pride. You serve as an outstanding role model for other SFS Saints. Thank you for allowing us to make a difference for you and especially for you making the difference for others!
    Ms. H

    Like (8)

  • Leah Crim says:

    Excellent job. Your story inspires me to do what I’m born to do. Thank you for being an inspiration. Good luck to your future endeavors.

    Like (1)

  • Marcie Levy says:

    To say I’m proud of you fails to describe the actual sentiment! You took the leap. The changes you made in your life, the courage and determination that you showed, the path you’ve chosen…I hope you know how brave you are! Felicidades, Willy. Hasta la victoria siempre. .

    Like (1)