Old stories can get in the way of full, vibrant living. Embedded beliefs, passed down through generations, can limit expectations and crush dreams. But each new generation comes bearing hope that new stories can be written and greater dreams realized.
For Anamaría Morales, the desire to embody a new story happened early in her life, when she chose to transcend the hardship and limited opportunity lived by her Mexican immigrant family. She vowed to become the first in her family to not only graduate from college but finance her education by her own enterprise and imagination, without owing a dollar in debt.
This dream was sparked over many years by little epiphanies Morales had, such as her birthdays, when she would receive a card from her Abuelita Juana. Her father would remind her how hard her grandmother had worked for the money tucked inside, and Morales could see this in the old woman’s fingers—twisted with arthritis from decades of physical labor.
The girl felt appreciation and compassion for her abuelita, whose opportunities were limited by a lack of education and an inability to speak English. And Morales was stung by the unfairness of the inequities around her, where several of her family members toiled at manual labor jobs to make ends meet. She was determined to create a different kind of life for herself.
Blazing a New Trail
Morales’ entrepreneurial bent was evident early. In the second grade, she set up a lemonade stand at the annual town parade in Healdsburg, a posh village in Northern California’s wine country. She gathered her profits, opened a bank account, and began saving. At age 8, she worked the crowd at concerts in the town square, offering manicures. From there, she peddled her handmade greeting cards door to door and sold produce from her garden at a stand located at the end of her family’s driveway. The enthusiastic, freckled-faced girl with a knack for business racked up sales from her various endeavors. But by her senior year in high school, she knew she had to up her enterprising game if she was going to attend college.
One night she ruminated over the looming cost of even affording the applications, not to mention tuition, books, and room and board.
“I felt overwhelmed and financially stressed, so I decided to release myself to the state of flow that I knew best: baking,” she recalls. The teen “stress baked” her first cheesecake that night, hitting upon a perfect recipe she still uses.
“I feel this burning passion within me is not mine alone but that of the generations before that never dreamed of the opportunities I have now. This serves as a grounding mantra for me: It is my duty to live as loudly, fully, and joyfully as possible. Not only for me, but for the many women in my family who came before me.”
Morales’ mom took a few slices to work to share. A coworker called her the next day pleading for the recipe to “the best cheesecake she’s ever had.” Morales had a better idea. She would keep her recipe and instead bake a cheesecake for the woman. “The next day, rather than receiving the cost of goods,” she said, “I received an invitation to entrepreneurship.”
At age 18, she set an intention. “I was going to bake my way through college one cheesecake at a time.” She had her heart set on a degree from the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) and planned to pay for it all with cheesecake. It would be a tall order for a girl from a working-class family at a time when rising college costs squeezed families with far greater resources. With no familial footsteps to follow, Morales was determined not to burden her parents. She would cut her own path to college. Her new business, the College Confectionista, was born.
Key Ingredient: Words of Affirmation
“I feel this burning passion within me is not mine alone but that of the generations before that never dreamed of the opportunities I have now,” she said. “This serves as a grounding mantra for me: It is my duty to live as loudly, fully, and joyfully as possible. Not only for me, but for the many women in my family who came before me.” She paraphrases the words of the poet Maya Angelou, one of her greatest inspirations: “I come as one, but I stand as 10,000.”
Morales didn’t stop there. She sought out the works of inspirational, spiritual, and business leaders, reading everything she could, listening to podcasts, and plastering her bedroom and bathroom walls with favorite affirmations. Morales’ positive words replaced her limiting thoughts and fueled her success.
She soon became known as the cheesecake girl, posing with her creations gussied up with fresh, local ingredients. She sold hundreds of cheesecakes and banked every dime she didn’t spend on classes at the local junior college.
The College Confectionista was financially successful, and Morales felt confident that after being denied acceptance once in 2016, she would get into UC Berkeley on her second attempt in 2018. “I really tried everything in my capacity to will it to be true,” she said. She relied upon her tenacity and the inspiration of the mentors in whose writings she loved. She composed a fictitious acceptance letter and mailed it to herself, part of her visualization practice. “I would envision receiving a crisp white envelope in the mail signed by the dean and the feelings of ecstatic pride I would feel.” She attached a sticker to her car’s sun visor: “I feel so grateful that I have been accepted to UC Berkeley.” She hung a Berkeley pennant on her wall and wore a Cal T-shirt until it was threadbare. But despite excellent grades, she was again rejected as a transfer student to the competitive Haas School of Business. Morales was devastated.
“A reframing mindset was needed, and it was not within my capacity for some time,” she said. “I gave myself time to grieve, and then I hit the books. The reality was much brighter. I had an uncharted, unplanned blank-canvas year ahead of me to come back even stronger.”
Morales summoned her ingenuity to find a new path to the same goal. She took another year of classes, got straight As, studied abroad, and built her business. For her third attempt, she knocked on a different door, applying instead as an intended interdisciplinary major. This would allow her to pick her course load, which she would pack with business classes. The third time was a charm. And now she had enough money saved to pay for her schooling.
On Morales’ first day at Berkeley in 2019, she broke down in tears, overcome with emotion. She is quick to emphasize, “It didn’t just happen. It happened each day with each conscious choice to do the habitual stuff. That is where the magic is made.”
That commitment helped her power through some inevitable discouragements. “It’s easy to get bogged down by circumstance without a healthy mindset. That’s why I made sure to fill my world with the words of as many inspirational figures as I could. On the way to school, while baking, before bed in a book. I could hear my internal dialogue shift toward one of tenacity and an unwillingness to let myself down.”
Only the Beginning
Morales, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 2021, wants to pay her success forward and share her determination by helping to send other young women to college “one cheesecake at a time.” She plans to expand College Confectionista into a foundation that will allocate a percentage of sales toward scholarships and mentorships for low-income Latinas in her community who are seeking to be first-generation college students. “My vision is to hire, inspire, and mentor high school seniors and community college students as they work toward their higher education while simultaneously receiving entrepreneurial skills,” she said. “I aim to encourage minority women to rise up, overcome their socioeconomic challenges, speak their minds, and give back to the community.”
Morales credits Oprah Winfrey as the source of one of her favorite mantras: Life is better when you share it. “It sums up every great teaching that has touched my soul,” Morales said. “We are all here for a reason, gifted with unique talents to express and share with the world. The best part? There’s only one you and nobody will do it quite like you will.”