Sheila and Melanie Cruz-Morales.
PARAMUS, N.J. – It’s hard enough to earn an acceptance letter from Georgetown University. But two? For twin sisters? Nearly impossible. Not so for recent Bergen Community College graduates and first-generation college students, Melanie and Sheila Cruz-Morales.
The pair, of Teaneck, not only earned admittance to the prestigious university, but qualified for the Georgetown Preferred Considered Program, which provides full need-based scholarships valued at $75,000 each – including tuition, room and board. But getting to that point took perseverance.
After the twins showed interest in Georgetown, the College’s Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society Administrative Advisor Angie Goldszmidt connected them to a Bergen alumnus who attended the university. While the Cruz-Morales sisters qualified for the Georgetown Preferred Considered Program by virtue of their GPAs – Melanie had a 4.0 and Sheila had a 3.9 – their status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) prevented it.
Undeterred, Melanie spoke with Georgetown officials to inquire why citizenship mattered when it came to their education. Her advocacy resulted in Georgetown, and other partner colleges, waiving the citizenship requirement. The Cruz-Morales sisters became eligible for the program and earned the scholarship.
But their journey to Georgetown soon encountered another obstacle due to the COVID-19 pandemic: two uncles, Javier Morales and Martin Morales, passed away from the virus within one day of each other. Javier, a father figure for the family, guided the twins and their mother to the U.S. from Mexico when they were just four-years-old.
Despite the challenges, the Cruz-Morales twins remain grateful.
“Sheila and I both are very excited and happy to be able to get the opportunity to continue our education at Georgetown University,” Melanie Cruz-Morales said. “It is truly a dream come true.”
They credit Bergen with helping them put them on a path for success.
“When starting our journey at Bergen Community College, we were excited and knew that we had the opportunity to do everything in these two years to eventually get admitted to an extremely selective school such as Georgetown,” Cruz-Morales continued. “Bergen gave us the opportunity to get here, and we are very thankful. Now, Sheila and I feel though as our hard work has paid off and we are super excited to get start classes at Georgetown this fall so that we can make the most of our time there and get involved.”
Both Cruz-Morales sisters intend to major in government, pursue a career in law and become immigration and civil rights attorneys. Bergen’s Goldszmidt predicts success.
“Melanie and Sheila are two of the hardest working students I have encountered at Bergen Community College,” Goldszmidt said. “Their dedication and perseverance allowed them to overcome exceptional challenges in their educational journey and I am so proud of them for being accepted to Georgetown University. I have no doubt that they will continue to excel and pave the way for future Bergen students.”
While attending Bergen, the Cruz-Morales sisters participated in the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society and the Judith K. Winn School of Honors and worked as English-as-a-Second-Language tutors at the English Learning Resource Center. Additionally, they started a community organization called College Access for Non-Citizens (C.A.N.) to help undocumented high school and community college students gain access to higher education. The organization helps students navigate the higher education system by assisting them with filing college applications, scholarship programs, the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the new NJ HESAA alternative financial aid application for undocumented students. In their free time, the two organize and work as immigrant rights activists. For more information on C.A.N., visit instagram.com/collegeaccessnoncitizens.
Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (www.bergen.edu), a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls more than 13,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.
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