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Gates scholarship semi-finalist credits parents as inspiration

Leer en Español, traducido por El Vocero Hispano

Godfrey-Lee — Alexis Lopez said he has dreamt of going to the University of Michigan since choosing to support the maize and blue over the green and white in a middle school dodgeball game. 

The Lee High School senior’s support of UM evolved into touring the Ann Arbor campus with his chemistry teacher, Brian McKanna, the summer before his senior year, and completing an application. 

Lee High School senior Alexis Lopez is a semi-finalist for the Gates Scholarship, a full-ride scholarship awarded to 300 outstanding minority high-school seniors

Earlier this year, he received his acceptance letter to his dream school, along with several others. 

“I got the ‘yes’ for Michigan and I could see in (his parents’) eyes how proud they were,” he said. “I want to do more to see those eyes again.” 

Of more than 30,000 applicants, Alexis also became a semi-finalist for the Gates Scholarship, a full-ride scholarship awarded each year to 300 outstanding minority high-school seniors from low-income households. 

Alexis said he will find out in March if he is one of the 600 finalists to participate in a round of interviews before the final selection process, where 300 students are awarded the scholarship. 

“I believe there are many paths for me. Even if I don’t get the scholarship, my parents still want me to go to Michigan,” he said. “They said it would be worth it for me to pursue my dream.”

An excerpt from one of the four essays Alexis Lopez submitted for the Gates Scholarship:
“The fear of drowning keeps me up at night, but the fear of disappointing everyone I love kills me. I must swim. Being a first-generation college student is more than just becoming the first to swim. I’m also the hope in my mother’s eyes and the roughness of my father’s exhausted hands. I’m the hero in my sister’s stories and the north star of my brother … (my parents) endued me with respect, humility, hope, patience, and a collection of advice that will remain engraved in my mind. They are my oxygen tank.”

His Parents Inspire & Motivate 

Alexis is the oldest child of parents Ana and Eliazar, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico.

He said his parents are his inspiration and motivation. 

“My parents never really forced me to get all As. It was something I saw that I did that made them proud,” he said. 

Alexis said he’s seen how hard his parents have worked, so he wants to work hard and eventually, help them financially retire. 

Lee High School senior Alexis Lopez pictured as a young child with his dad, Eliazar

A Godfrey-Lee student since kindergarten, Alexis has been involved in after school clubs, AP classes and plays the clarinet in marching band. 

He has also taken advantage of Lee High School’s college readiness programs to learn about scholarship opportunities and is dual enrolled in classes at Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State University.

During his senior year, Alexis said he has worked to balance school, his after-school job at Target, participating in band and other organizations, and spending time with his family.  

“I feel like I’ve been successful in finding a balance, and it gives me confidence,” he said.

Alexis said he also strives to set a good example for his two younger siblings. 

“One of the best days of my life was when I picked up my sister from the elementary school, and my younger brother said he wants to be like me,” he recalled.

Alexis knows attending a big university will be a change.

“I go to a small school and am proud to be Mexican, but I’ve never really experienced different cultures, (besides) just Hispanic people,” he said. “At U of M, there are people from hundreds of countries, and I think it will be good for me to meet other people.” 

Inspired by his parents’ unrealized dreams of owning a restaurant, Alexis said he plans to study business and finance, with the long-term goal of being a financial manager for a large company. 

He explained the anticipated pathway to achieving his career goals and becoming his own boss. 

“I see how Grand Rapids is growing,” he said, “and I want to help grow big businesses.”

Read more from Godfrey Lee: 
Bolstered by many while a student, this grad now supports others
Planting trees for community, especially those at risk

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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