Alumni Spotlight: Ray Morales ('99)

Just inside the entrance of Chief Sealth International High School, Principal Ray Morales enthusiastically calls down the hall to one of the students. Morales meets him halfway for a high five, and then turns to his left to catch a fist bump from another student before the final bell rings for class.

When asked what he does to be successful at work, Morales has a simple answer: he shows up. Every day. To Morales, showing up is not just about physical presence, but about bringing the right mentality and passion to whatever he does.

It's not just a matter of clocking in, clocking out, there's love and passion attached to it.

Seattle Central alum Ray Morales (‘99) has attended almost every kind of academic institution one could think of, from a public high school, to a community college, to an Ivy league. Now, he’s the principal of a high school in the same city he grew up in. No matter where he goes, whether he’s a student or in administration, Morales brings a fierce commitment towards inclusivity, a passion for building community, and a dedication towards his roots.

Morales admits he has largely modeled his work ethic after his parents. “I think anybody who knows my parents can speak to their work ethic and their dedication to making sure that things are done well, things are done right, that they're done on time, that they're done with love as well,” he explained. “It's not just a matter of clocking in, clocking out, there's love and passion attached to it.”

Morales’s parents both came from families of migrant farmers, who first settled in Eastern Washington before eventually moving to Seattle. After graduating from the University of Washington in the mid-1970s, Morales’s mom went on to teach elementary and middle school. She was the only one of her 12 siblings to pursue higher education. Morales’s dad, a skilled machinist who built truck parts for over 30 years, was born with congenital hearing loss and was fully deaf by 16. While he never learned ESL, he became a proficient lip reader in both Spanish and English.

When his parents first moved to the city in the 70s, there weren’t many Latinos in the Seattle area. That didn’t stop them from instilling in their children deep values of family, heritage, and culture.

“You had to carve out your corner to stay connected to your culture,” Morales explained. “We always stayed connected and rooted. We didn’t always see that reflected in our community, but home was a safe space,” he added.

I stayed true to myself, stayed focused, and graduated on time.

Education was very important in the Morales family. And Morales credits his parents for balancing traditional education with valuable life experiences outside of the classroom.

Much of this supplemental education came from family vacations — from road trips around the United States to extensive visits to Mexico to explore, visit family, and better understand their culture. In just a three-week trip, Morales would experience everything from the vibrant bustle of Mexico City to the most rural ranchos out in Michoacán to the beaches of Acapulco.

What Morales loved most about attending Garfield High School was its strong sense of community. He is friends with many of his classmates to this day, and his favorite former teacher is now his colleague at Chief Sealth. “One thing that I can say with some certainty is that I stayed true to myself, stayed focused, and graduated on time,” Morales said. “I think that was a huge accomplishment.”

After graduating high school in 1995, Morales started looking into options for college. "I think one of the things that was important to me was just being in a familiar space, being with people I felt comfortable with,” he explained.

Seattle Central was just up the block from Morales’s home, and many of his former classmates from Garfield also attended. The transition couldn’t have been more natural – but it couldn't have been more surprising either.

It wasn't until Seattle Central that I actually felt a connection to what I was learning.

For the first time, Morales was surrounded by countless students — and instructors — who looked like him. “I was one of very few Latinos at Garfield at the time, which was never really an issue, but there were just a lot more Latinos at Seattle Central, and I really appreciated that,” Morales said.

Morales was excited by Seattle Central’s diversity in general. He was particularly inspired by the professors who shared cultural connections with the content they taught, like Dr. David Quintero, who introduced Morales to impactful Latin American literature.

“It wasn't until Seattle Central that I actually felt a connection to what I was learning,” Morales explained. Each quarter bolstered his confidence and emboldened him to step outside his comfort zone.

He enrolled in courses he never thought to pursue before, like ethnic studies, theater, and astronomy. Morales even took two poetry classes — just because he could. “I made a book of poetry for my mom,” he shared. “I legit forgot about this until she reminded me of it just a month ago. She sent me a picture of the cover of the book, and I was like, wow, that's pretty cool that she saved it.”

Something that I did well at that time in my life was I just listened, read the room, and absorbed information.

After graduating from Seattle Central in 1999, Morales spent a few years uninspired in the corporate world. Morales’s friend — a fellow Seattle Central alum — had a hunch that Morales would excel at working with young people and offered him a position as program coordinator at a nonprofit focused on raising political and social consciousness in high school students.

“That's when it clicked for me,” Morales reflected. “That experience I had working with the nonprofit in the Central District, it was then that I figured out that maybe I wanted to be in education.”

With his newfound passion and determination, Morales enrolled in the University of Washington’s social welfare program, where he quickly realized that he was in the right sector. “I was super studious, and I took my classes seriously,” he explained. “Something that I did well at that time in my life was I just listened, read the room, and absorbed information.”

After graduating from UW in 2004, Morales decided to apply for master’s programs in social work. He only applied to UW and Columbia and got into both. Morales decided to step further outside of his comfort zone than he had ever gone — and moved to New York after living in Seattle his entire life.

Morales’s time in New York, including interning as a social worker in high schools in the Bronx, allowed him to learn from experienced educators and expand his understanding of the impact he could have in administration.

Seattle Central opened my eyes that higher education can be what you want to make of it.

Morales carried the values and experiences he amassed in the Bronx with him all the way back to Seattle, where he returned in 2009 to attend a three-year evening program at Seattle University in educational administration. During and after the program, Morales worked as a social worker and as a principal-in-training at various Seattle high schools, including 6 years as assistant principal at Cleveland High School.

Morales and his wife had an ongoing joke that he would eventually become principal at Chief Sealth. He spent formative years in West Seattle and had recently moved back — it was perfect. When former principal Aida Fraser-Hammer retired in 2021, he had to apply. “And now here I am,” he said.

As principal, Morales is focused on promoting inclusivity and creating a safe and equitable educational environment for students. He believes in being present and accessible — especially in the wake of the pandemic and remote learning — and in building individual relationships with staff and students alike.

“I want students to feel safe [at school], and I know that there's a lot of societal factors and forces at play that make that difficult, but I'm up for the challenge and I really am passionate about wanting to be here in this building,” Morales explained. “I live in this community, my kids go to school in this community, and this is where I am whether I’m the principal here or not.”

Morales is grateful for the patience and support he received at Seattle Central College, which provided him with the foundation to be successful in his subsequent academic and professional endeavors.

“To me, Seattle Central was a hub of learning, a hub of community. And I really, really appreciated that because that's what I need and what I look for today,” he said. “Seattle Central opened my eyes that higher education can be what you want to make of it.”