by Veronica Perry
When Danielle Morales found out she was selected to be USC Price’s valedictorian, she felt a rush of feelings. “I will admit, as an emotional person, I definitely did cry when I first read the email,” she said. While Dani never set out to earn this title, it was always a goal of hers to graduate with a 4.0.
Dani started her path at USC as a transfer student who had thoughts of majoring in nongovernmental organizations and social change, and minoring in social entrepreneurship. However, she changed course during her first semester after taking a course called “The Nonprofit Sector and the Public Interest” with Professor Cara Esposito. “The class was absolutely incredible and opened up my eyes to the Price School” she said.
She started researching the Policy, Planning and Development major, and realized that the Philanthropy, Nonprofits, and Social Innovation track perfectly aligned with her long-term career aspirations. “I switched majors, which I can truly say was one of the best decisions I have ever made,” she shared.
As a Price student she embodied the school’s mission, and Dani regularly gave back to the community through her extracurricular activities and internships. She was a member of Los Angeles Community Impact, a mentor with Women and Youth Supporting Each Other, a Friends and Neighbors Day Team Lead, and a Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab Undergraduate Scholar. She was also a member of Gamma Phi Beta, an international sorority.
She also has a strong mission of her own. Since the age of fifteen, Dani has been determined to provide individuals with the skills and tools they need to overcome poverty. “While I care about many social issues, I want to dedicate my career to addressing the issue of homelessness or promoting educational equity. To me, homelessness is the epitome of poverty,” she explained. Through her internships, activities, conversations with mentors and introspection, she realized that one of the most effective ways to address homelessness is through tackling economic inequality. “I believe education is the best way to do that,” Dani said.
While she studied at Price, Dani started making her vision a reality as a class facilitator with Chrysalis, where she taught a course on how to excel at job interviews for low-income individuals and people experiencing homelessness. Similarly, she interned with nonprofits like Illumination Foundation and Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano. Dani also served as a grant-writing intern and communication and development intern at Illumination Foundation. Finally, at Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano, she was a teaching fellow for a summer where she taught two eighth grade English classes and created the curriculum for, and executed, a gender studies class.
She is currently working as a Housing Navigator at Illumination Foundation, where she connects those experiencing homelessness to housing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dani has been working at different sites to ensure that the most vulnerable individuals and families in Orange and Los Angeles counties continue to receive vital services and stay safe during these uncertain times.
“For all of my graduating peers, I want to let you know that you are not alone if you are feeling overwhelmed, worried or uncertain about the future. These scary and unprecedented events are occurring right when we are all transitioning into a new stage of our lives,” Dani said.
“I believe our relationships are one of the most important things we have in our lives. We should continue to nurture them, because doing so will help us feel connected to others and the world around us; stay in touch with all of the incredible people we have met through Price. From our professors who became our mentors and our classmates who turned into our best friends, I hope we will continue to nourish all of these meaningful relationships that we were lucky enough to find at the Price School of Public Policy,” she shared.
“To those who are putting themselves on the front-lines to battle this pandemic, thank you. We are so grateful for all that you are doing. I think we will all feel a little bit better if we can find something or someone to be grateful for,” she said. “While it will not be easy, I know that we will get through this and continue making our dreams a reality.”