On Friday afternoon, Alex Morales will walk across the stage at Merriweather Post Pavilion and become a graduate of Oakland Mills High School. For the graduating class, it will be a momentous occasion, but for Morales, it’s that — and a lot more.

Nearly two years ago, Morales was involved in a serious bicycle crash. Doctors told his mother he wouldn’t live past 72 hours.

After going through rehabilitation, he went to his senior prom. He’s turning 18 on Friday and, despite the crash, he is graduating on time.

Morales is proud to be graduating with his class. Many of his doctors and specialists had told Morales and his family that he might need to take a gap year and graduate a year later than planned.

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“Ever since my injury, I’ve been telling my mom and my family that I’m not going to let that happen,” Morales said. “I’m going to persevere and my integrity is going to shine brighter than anything else, given my injury.”

On Aug. 2, 2022, Morales was riding his bike along Gorman Road in Laurel when he was struck by a truck. The driver, whose blood alcohol level was well over the legal limit, attempted to flee the scene, according to news reports. Police confirmed at the time that the driver was found on foot.

The driver pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts last May and was sentenced to five years in prison with the possibility of parole, WBAL reported.

Morales went into a coma. He emerged having suffered a severe brain injury.

Caty Angel, mother of Alex Morales, looks on during an interview with Alex after he was nominated as an exceptional senior at Oakland Mills High School on May 2, 2024, in Columbia. (Eric Thompson / For The Baltimore Banner)

Before he lost consciousness, Morales managed to call his mother, Caty Angel. She recalled the moments after her son’s crash.

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“When I got the call, my kids never call me Mommy, not even when they were younger. So Alex said, ‘Mommy, I need saving,’ and that’s the last time I heard Alex [before he came out of his coma],” Angel recalled, her voice cracking.

“And now today to be able to get a hug from him and say ‘I love you, I’ll see you later. Have a good day,’ these are things that feed my soul,” she said.

“We still have a long way to go,” she added. “He’s still in the healing process.” Morales will receive care from a traumatic brain injury clinic until he turns 21 years old, then will transition to adult TBI care therapy.

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“The biggest, hugest shoutout to my mom,” Morales said. “When I was a little, little boy, she always said that if anything bad happens, to call her.”

Angel’s birthday is Saturday, a day after her son’s. They plan to celebrate his graduation and her birthday on that day.

Morales’ high school journey post injury

Oakland Mills High Principal Jeffrey Fink expressed amazement at how far Morales has come in his recovery.

“When you think about the fact that we’re even sitting here having this conversation, going from where we were [about] a year and a half ago, there’s no word for it,” he said.

Oakland Mills’ slogan is: “We Are OM … We Are Strongest Together.” Morales and his family represent the school’s slogan, Fink said.

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Before his injury, Morales was a scholar student, captain of the wrestling team and a second lieutenant in the Air Force JROTC program.

After his injury, Morales had to set aside his school responsibilities and focus on prioritizing rehabilitation of his brain and body.

He returned to school in February 2023, six months after his injury. During those six months he underwent physical, occupational and speech therapy. In November 2022, he began attending Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Specialized Transition Program for daily therapy, according to his online journal. He graduated from the program in February 2023.

In those initial months, Morales suffered from migraines and short-term memory loss.

“He came back with a lot of struggles at the very beginning, but the school has been very supportive with speech and everything else that he’s needed here at school,” Angel said.

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Alex Morales laughs during an interview in Columbia on May 2, 2024. He was nominated as an exceptional graduate for his perseverance following a 2022 bike accident that left him with several life-threatening injuries. (Eric Thompson / For The Baltimore Banner)

Despite his struggles, Morales came back and hit the ground running.

“I’ve always been a scholar and I meet my academics with vigor and perseverance, just like I did with sports such as wrestling, football,” Morales said.

His favorite class during senior year was English 12 Honors. According to his independent reading journal, Morales chose to read “Fahrenheit 451″ by Ray Bradbury and thoroughly enjoyed it.

In English class, Morales said has been able to “fly.” He can be like any other student, given the freedom to complete assignments on his own. “Which I love because I know I’m able to do my work efficiently without the assistance of others,” Morales said.

As for sports, Morales has continued with the wrestling team as a student coach for the junior varsity athletes. He helps his peers learn how to maneuver an opponent’s weight and how to execute moves correctly.

“When I wrestled, I didn’t give my opponents opportunities to keep the match going,” Morales said. “If I could, and I saw the chance to, I just finished the match right there.”

Next step: Community College

After completing a summer internship with the county’s Recreation and Parks Department, Morales is heading to Howard Community College to major in health sciences. He plans to transfer to Johns Hopkins University or another four-year college.

He wants to become a nurse and/or physical therapist and one day work at the University of Maryland Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic Institute, where he received his rehab care.

Morales wants to work at the institute because of “everything they’ve done for me to get me to where I am.”

As an athlete, he said, he enjoys doing physical activity and working with others — both of which he can do in the medical field.

Alex Morales walks through the halls of Oakland Mills High School wearing the jersey given to the graduating seniors of the class of 2024 on May 2 in Columbia. (Eric Thompson / For The Baltimore Banner)

Even though Friday means the end of his high school career, Morales isn’t ready to let go of Oakland Mills High yet. He hopes to support the football team next year, perhaps as a coach or motivational speaker.

“I’m not letting what’s happened to me stop me from enjoying the things around me,” Morales said.