There’s a three-page handwritten letter tucked away in Michael Flores’ memorabilia of his college career.
The letter weaved in inspiring messages like “You can be whatever you want to be in the world” and “Money doesn’t define everything.”
That’s pretty good advice for a college graduate. Yet, Flores was 8 years old when he got that letter from Darren Divine, a former professor at the College of Southern Nevada. As his mother, Gloria Flores, took her final exam in Divine’s biology class, Michael sat quietly in the classroom when he was handed a green-inked guide for life.
“He took the time to write that letter during the test — he wrote this kid a letter,” said Michael, now 31. “He knew my mom was a single mom. For a long time, that is the only thing I had from a man about what it means to be a good man, and what really matters. Before then I didn’t know what a man was supposed to be like. The power of education is incredibly important because of moments like that. I’ll never forget it.”
Over the span of 25 years, Gloria juggled being a single parent and rearranging work and her class schedules so she could devote time to her only child. Her life-long goal of obtaining a degree became a reality on Saturday when she graduated from UNLV with her bachelor’s in sociology. A few rows over sat Michael, who received his master’s degree in urban leadership the same day.
The mother-son team turned their tassels together.
Michael often accompanied his mom to her evening classes at CSN and UNLV. On the college campuses, he’d absorb lessons in sociology, the history of community activists, and the capacity to effect change. He’d attend film screenings, events, and lectures with his mom. It wouldn’t be until later in his life, when those life experiences sunk in – that he would reflect on how his mom’s academic journey inspired his future.
Now, as chief of staff for Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Thom Reilly, Michael is acutely aware of the challenges and perseverance of working students or working parents.
In January, they realized they would end up graduating together.
“It’s taken a long time but we have been a team for all this time,” Gloria, 57, said. “So when I realized graduating together could happen … I feel like my heart is going to explode.”
A Doctorate in Life
Michael recalls his grandparents’ emphasizing the importance of education. His grandmother emigrated from Mexico, where her schooling ended in fourth grade.
“Not going to college was not an option,” Michael said.
After graduating Bishop Gorman High School, Michael attended CSN while also working several jobs.
“Fed-Ex, Vons, selling newspapers on the street — you name it, I did it. I am grateful for that work ethic,” he said.
He values the encouragement of Michael Richards, former president of CSN, who hired him to work in government affairs while he attended UNLV as an undergrad.
“Higher education saved my life and pushed me to the next level,” Michael Flores said.
He received his bachelor’s in public administration from the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs in 2015.
“It took me 10 years to get my degree. I never quit because my mom never quit,” Michael said. “Everybody has his or her own path. Ideally, everybody would graduate in four years, but it doesn’t always work that way.”
Gloria credits her CSN and UNLV professors, who were flexible and understood her role as a working single parent.
“My mom and my sister also helped when Michael was little,” Gloria said. “And I just think, when they talk about it takes a village to raise I child, I can’t say that I did it alone. There were so many people in the community who were supportive, like his Gorman family, Dr. Richards from CSN — there are so many people to mention. But we did it. And here we are now.”
While Michael and Gloria were both working and going to college, Michael started the Nevada Youth Network – a nonprofit dedicated to mentoring low-income youth and people of color.
Founded in 2013, the Nevada Youth Network operates two centers in Marble Manor and Sherman Gardens Annex in the historic Westside of Las Vegas staffed with volunteers.
Michael and Gloria lead the center’s programming, creating after-school activities for the kids and young adults centered on education, health, and life skills. You’ll find Gloria doing art therapy and yoga classes with the kids on evenings after she’s worked a full day at the Clark County Department of Family Services.
On the weekend, Michael will be cheering on the centers’ baseball teams while thinking of the next big idea for the kids. He says he couldn’t run the center without his mom.
“I rarely think about how it was so hard, what we had to sacrifice. I think about the wonderful things that have come up,” Gloria said.
But Michael knows what they went through.
“She’s getting a bachelor’s this weekend, but they should be giving her an honorary doctorate in life,” Michael said.