BATH — Morse High School teacher Michelle Gabrielsen says Alejandra Rodriguez is one of the top five students she has seen in 19 years of teaching.
“A lot of high school seniors are kind of wishy-washy – not Alejandra,” said Gabrielsen, who has worked with Rodriguez since ninth grade. She credits Rodriquez’s childhood immigration as a primary reason for her maturity and clarity of thought.
“She will be the first in her family to go to college,” Gabrielsen said.
Now 17, Rodriguez was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and immigrated with her mother, older brother and younger sister when she was 5 years old. Her memories of her homeland are not good.
“It was a very dirty place,” she recalls. Her mother escaped from an abusive husband to come live with her sister, Alejandra’s aunt, Maria Brown of Brunswick, who had been an exchange student.
Brown has been Rodriguez’s biggest role model. “She’s the strictest person I know – and the one I follow the most,” Rodriguez said.
She describes her Aunt Maria as feisty, creative and yet steadfastly reliable: “I’m not sure I could do what she’s done . . . she’s brought up my whole family.” Rodriguez casually honors her aunt by wearing the earrings Brown makes. Every time Alejandra goes over to her aunt’s house she gets a new pair.
Rodriguez has blended influences from a variety of counselors and role models. “I always wanted to be like Jill Henrikson,” she said. Henrikson graduated from Morse in 2008 and is now a junior at Bowdoin College. “She could play any sport well, and was a really great person.”
Her progress has not been all success though. Rodriguez thinks her scores on standardized tests – and a few lower grades – contributed to her being denied admission to both Bowdoin and Williams colleges.
“I’m disappointed with a C and am thrilled when I get an A – but a high B does satisfy me,” she admitted. Yet, she is excited about attending Roger Williams University in Rhode Island because they have an internship in the Criminal Justice program that she wants to get into. What she may lack in academic prowess, she makes up for in work ethic.
Detective Sgt. Bob Savary of the Bath Police Department supervised Rodriguez’s senior project.
“She was required to put in 15 hours in her senior year. … She did that in about the first two weeks,” Savary said. Rodriguez shadowed Savary at meetings, courthouse visits and trips to the crime lab. He also demonstrated how some kinds of evidence is collected and managed.
“She did over 30 hours – including ride-alongs, finishing at two in the morning,” Gabrielsen said.
The senior project built powerful learning into her final year of high school. Despite “senioritis” Rodriquez said, “I learned that this is what I want to do.” So she sought out college programs that had strong law and criminal justice programs.
Alejandra also credits Gabrielsen for keeping her motivated through the year. “Alejandra has worked really hard and has influenced a lot of people this year,” Gabrielsen said, “from kids at the Bath Middle School – where she recently presented her story of success to about 100 sixth-graders – to teammates on the softball field.”
A-Rod, as her friends call her, also captained two sports this year and earned membership into the National Honor Society.
Her nickname stuck in the seventh grade. “I used to only let friends who I played with call me that,” she said. But her success – and her nickname – now precede her.
“Now that I’ve been around for a while,” she said, “I’ve heard it from players on other teams as well.”
Her competitiveness shows through in others part of her life, too. She holds a part-time job at Olympia Sports where Eddie Mayo, the manager, said “she has a zest for the best, and she brings a ferocity to her game, both here and on the field, which is great.”
In five years, Rodriguez thinks she’ll be graduated from college and looking ahead to grad school. But, for now, she is looking ahead to graduation on June 13 and finishing the softball season.
Even though she might scuff up her knees – and her appearance in the prom dress might be affected – she said, “If I have to slide, I will.”
Alejandra Rodriguez, left, counsels a student at Bath Middle School, where she spoke about putting yourself on a positive track for success by creating achievable goals and establishing steps to get there.