One student’s goal to donate $10 million to SMC
By Elva Ramirez
This article appeared originally in the Fall 2018 issue of Frontiers Magazine.
Laura Morales was an undocumented student when she entered SMC in 2011. She’s now one of the College’s most committed young donors. She has set herself a personal goal of contributing over $10 million within her lifetime, and she’s well on her way to meeting it.
But it hasn’t been an easy ride, especially in Morales’ early days at college.
As an undocumented immigrant, Morales was barred from access to all loans and scholarships; she was also unable to be hired for part-time jobs to help pay for education and living costs.
She lived with a host family freshman year, but she was on her own for the rest of day. “I didn’t have a meal plan,” Morales recalls. “I would eat one dinner at my host family and then survive on granola bars.” Morales also couldn’t afford to buy books. Showing an early entrepreneurial streak, she offered to be an unpaid student tutor in exchange for borrowing books from her peers. She never paid for a single book while at SMC, she says.
Aware that she had no money to return to college, Morales knew that she would probably have to drop out after her first semester. But instead of giving up that fall, she aimed to make the most of her experience. She contributed over 200 hours of community service while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
“Pressure creates gems,” she says. “I was under so much pressure to succeed.”
It was during a volunteer event for Habitat for Humanity that Morales had a chance meeting with SMC’s Executive Vice President for Business Affairs, Eric McDonald. After hearing her story and learning of her high grades and commitment to volunteerism, he helped arrange for a student meal plan and access to student housing. He also worked on her behalf to lobby for scholarships for the rest of her stay at SMC.
“Those experiences fundamentally shaped me as a human being,” Morales, now 25, says. The scholarships and the willingness of strangers to give her money to attend SMC became “a foundation of how I need to be as person. Because someone did something so unimaginably nice for me. Now, it’s my turn.”
Morales says it’s her moral responsibility to return the favor to her alma mater. She set herself a goal to eventually donate over $10 million to the school, and she’s already started.
“You don’t need a million dollars to make a difference,” Morales says. “You need a willing heart and an open mind.”
Sometimes she’s donated $1,000, sometimes it’s $100, she says. She gives as she can; even so, she’s the biggest donor to the College in her age bracket.
She’s set a lofty goal on purpose, she says. “Everyone wants to donate a million outright,” Morales says. “How can you know what it’s like to donate a million if you don’t know what it’s like to donate $100 or $1,000? I am reminded that drips fill the ocean, and it is the same for the case of giving.”
Morales continues to work toward her goal of $10 million. She has her own company, LM Field Services and Sales, which helps companies relocate foreign employees from major corporations such as Bosch, GE, and John Deere to cities in the South, including Spartanburg and Augusta. She also runs audits and sales for small businesses in South Carolina. Morales says that her experience as an SMC student ambassador directly contributes to the public speaking and sales tactics that she uses to make her business thrive.
She now owns two properties in Anderson, South Carolina, and is working on a third deal. The two properties are
paid for, and have been written in her will to be deeded to the College when Morales dies, “no questions asked.”
Since graduation, Morales has obtained a green card through DACA. In a strange way, not having a green card in her early days at SMC contributed to shaping who she is today. “Sometimes the worst things we face are the best things in the long term for our life experience as a human being,” she says.
As an undocumented student in financial duress, she was under immense pressure to make the most of her SMC education, which led to new opportunities.
Although she’s now legally allowed to stay in the country, Morales remains motivated to help students like herself. She wants to aim big, she says, because so much is at stake. “I need to think bigger, even if I fall short,” she says. “If my goal is to donate $10 million and I fall short, and I only get to $5 million? That’s better than having a goal of $1 million and only giving $500,000.”
A goal of $10 million is just a number, but it’s something that’s written all over her house, on her goal board. “It’s my lifetime goal to donate that money,” Morales says. “It doesn’t have to be donated at once, and it doesn’t all have to be my money. I have to get creative with it because I am aware that all problems are solved with nonlinear thinking.”
“The things I do today not only affect me but also people I’ve never met or will meet, and that keeps me accountable and inspired to take massive actions with my daily actions,” she adds.