“Honor your father and your father” is the fourth commandment, and it’s also the mindset that has guided Gabriela Merlos at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, where she is a member of the class of 2019, and where she earned scholarships to six universities, including Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, where she plans to study business administration.

Her mother Lucia Alvarez and father Francisco Merlos are immigrants from El Salvador, and both work two jobs to support their family, which includes Gabriela and her older sister Claudia. The family attends St. James Parish in Mount Rainier, Maryland.

“They’ve sacrificed a lot for me. I’ve learned everything (from them)… because I see how hard they work to give me and my sister the things we need. It’s motivated me to do well in school, to honor all their sacrifices and hard work,” Merlos said.

She noted that her parents are very religious, and they encouraged her to attend parish religious education classes and go on retreat. Merlos attends Spanish Masses at the parish and was confirmed there. Her participation in the St. James youth group has “made me a better person,” she said. 

Merlos, who was born in the United States, was baptized at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington and received her First Communion at St. Gabriel Church. She is proud of her family’s heritage and of the values her parents have instilled in her, and this spring she returned to El Salvador to visit her grandfather who was very ill.

At Archbishop Carroll, Merlos was a member of the Latin Dance Team, which performs and goes to competitions, and recently qualified to participate in the World Latin Dance Cup in Colombia in December. Her favorite dances are the salsa and the bachata.

Merlos transferred to Archbishop Carroll as a junior, and saw her grades increase significantly. At Carroll, she was an honor roll student and took classes in the rigorous International Baccalaureate program.

“I definitely got a lot more help here,” said Merlos of Archbishop Carroll High School, which is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington.

The 17-year-old likes math and hopes to become an accountant some day and perhaps work in the finance department at a business.

She was the captain of Carroll’s soccer team and played forward. “Our team – we were very close,” she said. “It wasn’t really about winning. It was about having fun. That’s what made it a good season.”

At Archbishop Carroll, she volunteered with the school’s Thanksgiving food drive, and she also joined students in serving meals to the homeless and collecting coats for them for the winter and handing them out. “I mainly learned about giving back, especially to those in need,” she said. “It felt good to help those in need. I learned it’s definitely something everybody should do.”

Having the opportunity to attend Catholic high school was very meaningful to Merlos, who said she is looking forward to continuing her Catholic education at Marymount University, and continuing to live the values that she has learned from her parents and from her experiences at Archbishop Carroll and at St. James Parish.

“We could pray before we eat (at Carroll), we could pray before school, (and) we could pray before class,” Merlos said. “I think that’s really important, to thank God every day, and I’m glad we could do that here.”