By Dolores Cullen, Storm Lake Times Pilot
Her freshman classmates and even a teacher told Ashley Morelos not to get her hopes up when she said she planned to go to University of Southern California someday.
“But in my head I said, ‘I’m gonna make it,’” she said last Tuesday, only five days before her graduation from Storm Lake High School and a few months before she heads to USC where she has been accepted into the freshman class.
In fact, Ashley decided as a fifth grader that it was her dream to attend the prestigious university. The daughter of Valentina’s Meat Market owners Silvino and Mayela Morelos, she went on family trips to LA, visiting an uncle and drinking in the fast pace, the culture and big city vibe.
Only 11% of USC applicants are accepted. Just three percent receive the merit scholarship, like Ashley, which covers full tuition.
Ashley is looking forward to the diverse student body at USC. Twenty-percent are international students.
“I feel like I was exposed to all different people in Storm Lake, which has helped me learn different perspectives and prepared me for college and the world,” she said.
Still she says it’s hard to believe she’s been accepted. “I thought, ‘how can a girl from Iowa like me get in?’”
She was so anxious waiting for the notification from USC that she had her little sister open it when the phone message arrived in February. “I told her, ‘Here, you open it.’”
Business smarts early on
Ashley’s parents emigrated from Mexico knowing next to no English. They first lived in California, then moved to Sioux City and finally Storm Lake.
They built Valentina’s from a small corner store 17 years ago into the full grocery it is today on Sixth Street. Mayela worked at Tyson until only three years ago to supplement the family income.
Ashley helped out at Valentina’s starting at a young age, which piqued her interest in business. “I took a lot of college business courses through Iowa Central,” she explained. She plans to get a degree in business administration at USC and to eventually work in the international business field. “I’d like to work at marketing for a big fashion company,” she explained.
Her business smarts were sharpened early as she translated for her parents. “I went to tax appointments with them and I had to help with terms they didn’t understand. I love helping them.”
She learned about deductions and tax credits as a kid and as a teenager recommended Valentina’s become an LLC. “I told my dad, ‘What would happen if you get sued?’” He acted on her suggestion.
Her teachers admire Ashley for her maturity, her work ethic and her volunteer spirit.
“She is a one of a kind student who represents Storm Lake High School so well,” said Mel Fisher. “She is also one of the kindest students you’ll ever find. Her work ethic and drive to be the best she can be is something all of our students should look up to and strive for.”
Ashley advanced to DECA nationals last year. She volunteered at Upper Des Moines, SALUD and elsewhere, which helped her earn the Silver Cord Award, given to seniors who give at least 1,000 hours to others throughout their high school career.
“She was one of those students who came in and knew right what to do,” said Di Daniels of the Friends With Food program distributions at which Ashley volunteered.
“I’m gonna cry!” exclaimed Silvino as he made believe he was rubbing his eye with a fist, considering his daughter’s departure. He and Mayela are proud of her accomplishments.
And Ashley has picked up small town business lessons from mom and pop she can use in college and beyond: “Dad is so friendly with everyone. He just draws them into the store.”