Odalis Gonzalez Reyes, '21, is a ray of sunshine from American Falls, Idaho. Before arriving on campus, she really had not been much of anywhere outside of Idaho. That Freshman fall, when she drove cross country with her high school teacher, Mrs. Caroline Wight ('04), she began the adventure that would be 4 years of growth and challenge and change at Notre Dame.
Perpetually curious, Odalis has always valued education and sought ways to make it more accessible for everyone. For Odalis, this often starts with making people comfortable and bringing everyone into the conversation. While working at the the AnBryce Foundation as a summer intern, she translated their camp and program documents into Spanish. Odalis knew, firsthand, the power of a parent fully understanding the opportunities for their children. Coming from a Spanish speaking home, she was a frequent translator for her family, which meant her parents rarely had time to process information on their own without her there. Odalis knew that educating parents and families must go hand in hand with educating children. When she returned for her Junior fall, she turned her eyes to the AnBryce website and translated all of the pages into Spanish, as well. She shared that it was an unexpected treat to show her work to her mother and have her mother learn things about the program for the first time. She felt her mother finally "got" what it was to be an AnBryce Scholar.
Odalis also builds community in her clubs and organizations. Many people still talk about her as a mother for their Latino Family Retreat weekend. She was a Program Assistant for FIRE Starter to have more necessary conversations around all topics. While President of the Student Coalition for Immigration Advocacy, she significantly grew the board positions because she saw both the need to spread around the work, but also the importance of feeling like you truly belong to a group. She knows the power of having a voice. Not one to stay in her comfort zone, she tried out for and acted in Show Some Skin her freshman year. This year she was an Assistant Producer of the show. Odalis spent part of her Junior spring on a domestic Study Abroad in Washington, D.C. There she interned for the Hispanic Federation and flourished in the bustle of a city at the epicenter of politics and policy. All of these experiences, and others, combined to make her the 2021 Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C Award winner. This is an award given to a senior who has greatly contributed to the climate of welcome and inclusivity on campus.
When she is not bringing peers into community, she is researching the power of community in rural schools. A product of rural schools, she knew firsthand the difficulties that can arise from language and other barriers. Her thesis addresses these issues and is entitled Bien Unidos...School and Community are One: the educational experience of Latinx students in a rural U.S. public school. A phenomenological case study, she conducted interviews, focus groups and workshops to gain answers to such questions as "How does the concept of educacion (the idea that morals, values and respect are intrinsically woven though education) impact the way Latinx students and their families interact with school?" Like her leadership at Notre Dame, she also explored familia and whether students and families were assimilating or experiencing acculturation within their schooling communities. She laughs that her thesis was quite lengthy, but shared that she had to make it long to ensure that she honored all of the stories shared with her and that she gave a voice to the vulnerable.
Odalis will be very busy graduation weekend. She will do the first reading in Spanish for the Commencement Mass and then will give the closing benediction for the Arts and Letters diploma ceremony. Graduates can also hear her voice as part of the MSPS Student Recognition Ceremony.
After graduation Odalis is headed to the west coast to teach 5th grade as part of the Pacific Alliance for Catholic Education. A two-year program, similar to Notre Dame's ACE program, Odalis will teach and also get her Masters of Education.