Kurt Schaefer Memorial Scholarship recipient Santos Garcia Avelar with Schaefer family members in June 2016.

Alum Santos Garcia Avelar Wins Law School Scholarship

Kurt Schaefer Memorial Scholarship recipient Santos Garcia Avelar with Schaefer family members in June 2016.

May 27, 2020

This is a heartwarming story that is going to make you cry. It’s a testament to a Huntington High School graduate’s incredible determination and ability to stay focused. It’s the real life story of immigrant Santos Garcia Avelar, who graduated this month from CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice and won a full scholarship to the University of Washington School of Law.

A member of Huntington’s Class of 2016, Mr. Garcia Avelar immigrated to the United States from El Salvador. At the time of his high school graduation, he attributed his success to having “a healthy hunger and appreciation towards education.” That same drive and determination has only grown stronger through the years.

“Santos Garcia Avelar ’20 exemplifies everything John Jay prides itself on—hard work, resiliency, academic excellence, and a passion for helping others,” states a spotlight currently running on the college’s website. “Working 70 hours a week in a restaurant, while also being a full-time John Jay honors program student, Mr. Garcia Avelar never lost sight of his goals.”

Yes, you read that right. The Huntington alum has been working 70 hours a week while studying in John Jay’s honors program and compiling such a superb academic record that he is one of just five students nationally to have won a full scholarship to the University of Washington School of Law.

The William H. Gates Public Service Law Program scholarship covers the cost of tuition, books, enrollment fees, room and board, incidental expenses and a summer stipend. Mr. Garcia Avelar has agreed to work in public service for five years following his graduation from law school.

“I have decided to attend law school because I would love to become an attorney and be a voice for the unrepresented communities in our society,” said Mr. Garcia Avelar in the college website spotlight. “If all goes well, in five years I see myself as a practicing attorney working for the New York City Law Department. I would love to work in the legal counsel or general litigation divisions because it has always been my dream to work on behalf of the people and bring immediate change through the law.”

Mr. Garcia Avelar emigrated from El Salvador in 2010 and he began studying at J. Taylor Finley Middle School. He moved on to Huntington High School in 2012 and worked hard to earn top grades.

“I want kids and adults to know that Huntington is an incredible community and that we can continue improving on our differences to become stronger together,” said Mr. Garcia Avelar during an interview last weekend. “The Huntington community has provided me with many opportunities to grow academically and personally. In fact, it was teachers such as Mr. [Kenneth] Donovan, Mrs. [Mercedes] Peña, Mr. [Edward] Florea and Mr. [James] Graber that helped me out so much in my academics and took the time to listen to my story to provide the help that I need it to succeed. When I was on the verge of not attending college due to my undocumented status, it was the Huntington community and the scholarships that I was awarded that essentially allowed me to attend college. They believed in my passion for education.”

A member of the Blue Devil varsity soccer team, Mr. Garcia Avelar also found time to serve as president of Huntington’s Spanish Honor Society chapter. He won first place in the Victor Baptiste essay contest sponsored by the Long Island chapter of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese. Outside of class he tutored, mentored and was as a role model for those studying English as a new language.

“There are a lot of special mentors, employers, family members, staff and faculty who helped me get to where I am today,” said Mr. Garcia Avelar in the online spotlight. “First, there’s my family. They are my biggest motivation to keep working and improving on everything I do. My family’s immigrant struggles and accomplishments are often overlooked, and I want to make sure that their story is visible wherever I go. They sacrificed everything to have a better life in the United States.”

One person who is not here to celebrate Mr. Garcia Avelar’s success is his father, who was assassinated in a senseless act of violence. “It happened when I was a baby, but his story of hard work continues to live within me,” the Huntington grad said.

“Having an undocumented status and no financial help while attending college were two challenges that I overcame with tenacity and determination,” said Mr. Garcia Avelar, who double majored in Latin American and Latinx Studies and Political Science. “I always understood that education was my escape from a low-socioeconomic status and that’s exactly what I strive to accomplish.”

As a Huntington senior, Mr. Garcia Avelar garnered the Kurt Schaefer Memorial Scholarship, Patrick Thomas McCourt Memorial Scholarship, Joseph Toles Scholarship, and the prestigious Rotary Club 'Service above Self' scholarship. Those funds were crucial to his ability to move on to college.

“When I came to John Jay—and even before John Jay—I was facing two challenges: One was my undocumented status and the other one was my financial situation,” said Mr. Garcia Avelar in the profile on the college website. “As a high school senior, I found out that as an undocumented student I did not qualify for any financial aid. I was selected for a final interview for a full-ride scholarship at a particular college and then later I was told that I did not qualify due to my undocumented status. It was painful because it was something completely out of my control. This experience almost discouraged me from attending college at all, because I did not have the financial resources to attend college.”

But, Mr. Garcia Avelar somehow managed to persevere and stay positive and keep his eye on his ultimate goals.

“During those years, my financial situation was particularly unstable because all my savings were used to pay for my legal fees during my permanent resident application,” the Huntington alum said in the college spotlight. “This was the only way to overcome my undocumented status. Many people believe that getting a green card is easy. But what they don’t know is that it takes years—or even decades—to obtain one, and it’s extremely expensive. To stay on track and fight for my education, I decided to work 70 hours a week in the restaurant industry, while also going to school.”

How Mr. Garcia Avelar managed to work 70 hours a week and still blaze a trail of academic excellence is a testament to his incredible drive to succeed. He has navigated under, over and around some very significant obstacles over the years.

“My circumstances were a complete recipe for failure, but with the right support system, I used my challenges as stepping stones to change my circumstances and excel in my academic journey,” Mr. Garcia Avelar said.

As he preps to head off to a new adventure at the University of Washington School of Law, Mr. Garcia Avelar will never forget those he is temporarily leaving behind.

“I love Huntington and it has become my hometown,” Mr. Garcia Avelar said. “I always keep in mind that I have to come back to the community and pay it forward. It does not matter where I am, Huntington will always be my hometown. I would love to build a life in this amazing community.” 

Joseph Toles Foundation scholarship recipient Santos Garcia-Avelar.
Joseph Toles Foundation scholarship recipient Santos Garcia-Avelar.
Patrick Thomas McCourt Memorial Scholarship recipient Santos Garcia Avelar with Michael McCourt in June 2016.
Patrick Thomas McCourt Memorial Scholarship recipient Santos Garcia Avelar with Michael McCourt in June 2016.
Patrick Thomas McCourt Memorial Scholarship recipient Santos Garcia Avelar with Michael McCourt in June 2016.
Santos Garcia Avelar (third from the right) was the winner of the 2016 $5,000 Rotary Club 'Service Above Self' Scholarship.