By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer
Social work graduate student Alicia Martinez, 21, died from COVID-19 on Jan. 17. A Waco native, she graduated from Rapoport Academy in 2017 and Baylor in 2020 with her bachelor’s degree in social work.
From a young age, Alicia’s kindness was easy to see, Lauren Hejl, Alicia’s best friend from Rapoport Academy said.
“I was in seventh grade, and she sat behind me in our class,” Hejl said. “She introduced herself and told me that we were going to be best friends and that she was going to take care of me pretty much, because I didn’t know anybody there. I remember she invited me to sit with her at lunch with all her friends, and that’s pretty much how it started. She was very outgoing. She was definitely the one to make the first move.”
Throughout their time at Rapoport Academy, Hejl said Alicia made it a point to befriend everyone and make them feel included.
“There were some guys that played Magic the Gathering,” Hejl said. “It’s a card game like a Dungeons and Dragons type of thing. It’s real different, but she would literally go and hang out with them. And I’m like, ‘Alicia, what are you doing? Like, why are you talking to these guys, these weirdos?’ But she enjoyed it. She would go and play with them and learned how to play.”
Dr. Jess Smith, Alicia’s English and study hall teacher for three years at Rapoport Academy, said Alicia made class fun and joyous.
“She was really good at getting me off topic,” Smith said. “So there were definitely many times where I would have finished a two or three minute answer to something, and then I would look around and everyone would be stifling giggles, and I’d be like, ‘you did it again! That wasn’t a real question. You’re just trying to get me elsewhere.’”
Smith said Alicia was intelligent and wise, succeeding at everything she did and enjoying it.
“She was really good at English,” Smith said. “She was definitely a reader. I know that she enjoyed my class, but it’s really interesting. She grew up to study social work and was fabulous in the humanities. I was certain for a while there that she was going to be a teacher, but I would say even though math was not always her favorite subject, she really did excel in STEM as well. She took AP Art and was awesome at it. She was captain of the robotics team … She was a really well rounded person.”
Jennifer Bankhead, Alicia’s sophomore English teacher, college counselor and senior adviser at Rapoport Academy, said Alicia always focused on standing up for justice, even at age 15.
“She’s creative and hardworking and responsible,” Bankhead said. “She’s a unique kid. You don’t get many like her. When you teach you have a lot of wonderful kids, but she’s a special one.”
Bankhead said Alicia was determined to go to college. She was a first-generation college student.
“I remember just meeting with her constantly about scholarships,” Bankhead said. “She was worried about paying for college, and she was so determined. She applied for every single one. It’s not that often that a kid is willing to just keep writing essays and keep making an effort to get scholarships, and she never gave up. She was just determined to go on to college.”
Alicia achieved her goal to attend Baylor University, and she earned a spot in the First in Line Success Academy Scholarship, a program that includes a scholarship and other opportunities to give first-generation students a great college experience.
This scholarship requires freshmen in the program to move in early. Angleton graduate student Trista Enriquez said Alicia was immediately ready to make new friends as soon as the rest of the freshman moved into the dorm.
“She walked to every girl’s room on the third floor and introduced herself and was like, ‘Hi, I’m Alicia. I’m from Waco. If you need anything, don’t be afraid to reach out, and I can show you around,’” Enriquez said. “I thought that was really cool because I wouldn’t have had the confidence to go introduce myself to everyone at all, but she was just super eager to make friends and make people feel welcomed because I just remember her saying that she was there a couple of days before, and she felt really alone before everyone moved in, so she always wanted to make sure people didn’t feel alone like the way she did.”
Alicia’s friend group was made up largely by those in her Welcome Week group, Dallas senior Miranda Wood said.
“We met freshman year and just kept in touch these past three and a half years,” Wood said. “I met her because she was in my Welcome Week group, and we were on the same floor. All that crew, third floor, became really, really close. We spent so much time outside the lobby just hanging out.”
Because Waco was Alicia’s hometown, Wood said their friend group spent a lot of time at her home and spent holidays there, always feeling welcomed by her grandparents.
“Spring semester, we wanted to bake something, and we had no kitchen, and they were like, ‘Oh, just come over to our house. Invade our space and cook with us,’” Wood said. “They were just always so welcoming. They took our little friend group out to eat multiple times, and they were just so kind and sweet. You can see where she got her hospitality, her kindness from really easily when you looked at her grandparents.”
Katy senior Cameron Kallina said he also met Alicia through Welcome Week. He said he had never met anyone before who was so kind and understanding.
“One of my most favorite memories was when we went on a ‘date’ for fun,” Kallina said. “Wasn’t romantic whatsoever. I mean, I’m gay, and she’s way out of my league. So it was just this for a little friend date. We went to Common Grounds, and we were just talking about everything under the sun, trying to get to know each other more. By that point, we already had a friend group established, so we were talking about everyone else in the friend group like they were our kids. We always would joke with each other saying that she’s my wife, and I’m her husband. It was just really good because after that point, every semester, we always made sure that we had a little date.”
Alicia was incredibly selfless and kind, but also funny and confident, Houston senior Terra Morris, Alicia’s freshman year roommate, said.
Morris said they would constantly joke that their life was a TV show, and that Alicia was constantly looking for something exciting to happen.
“I think she really had a heart for adventure, because half of the time, she’d be like, ‘I just want something to happen,’” Morris said. “And I’d be like, ‘No!’ Because every time she would say that, stuff would happen to me. I can’t even count the times she would say, ‘things are just too easy right now.’”
At Baylor, Alicia was a social work major, and Wood said if the major hadn’t existed, Alicia would’ve created it through her inherent desire to serve and care for others.
“So she told me that she keeps her ringer off during the day, but on at night, just in case one of her friends or sisters needs anything,” Morris said. “She’s very caring about people.”
Pawcatuck, Conn., senior Emma Burnside said Alicia’s goal was never to make lots of money or have the spotlight on her.
“She was like, ‘I just want to impact people,’” Burnside said. “She’s like, ‘I don’t care if they remember my name, but I just want to know that I’ve touched them.’ And she definitely did that. Everyone that she met, she touched.”
Dean of the Graduate School of Social Work Dr. Jon Singletary said Alicia was a true leader.
“She was bright, engaged and she knew what she wanted to do,” Singletary said. “Her calling to social work in order to be a change agent was always clear to her.”
Alicia was going to change the world, Bankhead said.
“I had no doubt about that,” Bankhead said. “I remember telling her once to use her powers for good, because she had so much power … Hearing about her death felt like a huge loss for the world. She was a game changer. I think her loss will be felt by us all because of the great things she could have done.”
Smith said even though she and Alicia stayed connected after she graduated from Rapoport Academy, she’s blown away by all the wonderful new stories she’s heard about Alicia the past few days.
“The world is worse without her in it,” Smith said.
Enriquez said she feels like she lost a sister, but she knows Alicia was content and solid in her Christian faith.
“We definitely talked about God, and that is something that gives me peace,” Wood said. “I mean, I know she’s in heaven, and I know she’s at peace with that.”
Enriquez said Alicia spoke about being broken and picking up the pieces and putting them back together to create a beautiful mosaic.
“This is something she wrote like a year ago,” Enriquez said. “She said, ‘In this moment, my heart feels at peace with where I am at. At first, I thought I was just happy, but I realized that this feeling is joy. True joy, born from the love I have found for myself, the love my community has shared with me and the love for God I’m continuing to grow in.’ I think that’s just something everyone knows, that she really was just joyful and happy with where she was in life, and she was ready for the next chapter.”
Alicia is survived by her parents, Jeremy and Amy Morales, sisters, Grace Morales, Kristen Morales and Mia Martinez; brothers, Jesse Martinez IV, Nicolas Martinez, Jon Martinez and Cristian Martinez; and grandparents, Rudy and Betty Sanchez, George and Herlinda Morales, Jesse and Connie Martinez. The funeral service will take place on Jan. 22 at 11:30 a.m. via live stream. Friends of the Martinez family have also set up a GoFundMe to help cover Alicia’s final expenses and to support their family at this time.