Humans of the U: Hollie Morales

“I’m what they call a non-traditional student. I’m a mother, grandmother, daughter, sister … and widow. Each of these roles has made me the person I am today—one tenacious sassy lady who holds nothing back. I may have been born in Texas y’all, but I found my home, my tribe, here at the University of Utah.

It’s taken me longer than I expected to walk across the graduation stage in my cowboy boots. Moments of impact can change our trajectory and set our life course on a different path. My moment of impact hit seven years ago.

I never fathomed that I’d become a widow at 34, left to raise my four children alone, the oldest 15, the baby 2. Medulloblastoma was supposed to be a pediatric brain tumor, so how could it put a 36-year-old man in the grave in just eight months? It felt like déjà vu. My daddy died from glioblastoma brain cancer when I was 20. The two most important men in my life, taken from me by the same grim reaper.

But I’m not going to tell you a sob story. Quite the opposite. I’m proof of what can be done in the face of adversity if you refuse to give up. In my moment of greatest darkness, I began my journey to what feels like a calling more than a profession. I started school at 35 determined to make a difference in the world of cancer and this fall, I’ll embark upon my next quest—a Ph.D. in oncological sciences studying brain cancer here at the U. If I am able to make a difference in just one life all the years of studying, sleepless nights and sacrificing a social life will be worth it.

Don’t let others tell you what can’t be done. Chase your dreams with reckless abandon. Cherish your loved ones—we aren’t promised tomorrow. When adversity strikes and you find your face in the mud, get up, tighten your bootstraps and march forward.”

—Hollie Morales, Class of 2019, B.S. in Biology, Anatomy and Physiology emphasis, minor in Chemistry, College of Science

We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at