Michael Arroyo was only 3 when he watched his mother sworn in as the first Hispanic alderwoman in the Morris County town of Dover.
That was one of many moments over the years that inspired him to want to pursue a life in public service and follow in the footsteps of the woman who sacrificed to raise him alone. “My mother is a hard worker,’’ says Arroyo, a fourth-year student at Rutgers School of Law-Newark and full-time police officer for the neighboring communities of Mine Hill and Wharton.
“She has really been on the go and involved in a lot of community activities, and I think that was engrained in me as well,” he says.
At Morris Catholic High School, teachers thought Arroyo’s polished public speaking skills would serve him well as a lawyer. But he stuck to his plan to enroll in the county police academy while majoring in criminal justice as an undergraduate in the School of Arts and Sciences in New Brunswick. In 2010, he celebrated a dual graduation from Rutgers and the Morris County Police Academy.
“I’ve had an interest in law enforcement and the legal system since I was very young,” Arroyo, 26, says. “It was probably because of pop culture – all those police TV shows – and I had family in Puerto Rico who were police officers. But it was also because of my mom.’’
His mother, Virginia Caceres, cut her political career short after one two-year term to raise her young son. But even as she set her own political aspirations aside, she continued to show Michael how to be a difference maker as an administrator in the state’s intensive supervision program for select, nonviolent prison inmates who might benefit from a return to society.
“There were times she covered for probation officers and went into the field to conduct interviews,” he said. “Sometimes I was at the office when she did her analysis. She took her work seriously because her reports affected people’s lives. She gave people a second chance.”
Her drive remains a constant influence in his life and is one of the reasons he went on to law school a year after graduating the police academy. “Everyone wants their children to do better than they did," Arroyo said. “She would tell me, ‘be a lawyer,’ ‘be a doctor.’"The married father of two has interned for several judges and is about to start an internship as a graduate fellow at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, while continuing to go to school at night. He also looks out for fellow minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students as chair of the professional development subcommittee for the law school’s Minority Student Program.
“Evening students have full-time jobs, but they still need guidance, just like the day students who are around to take fuller advantage of the MSP,” says Arroyo, “I see my role as a communicator, to let them know that part-time internships are available or that their applications come with deadlines. I want them to know there is a massive network of alumni and judges who want them to succeed.”
It was through his involvement in MSP that led to an internship with U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas, a two-time Rutgers alumna and herself a beneficiary of the program. “I’ve heard Judge Salas speak about her [Cuban-Mexican] heritage and although my mother is Puerto Rican, there are similarities,” Arroyo observes. “Things weren’t perfect in their lives but both were instilled with a strong work ethic and a will to succeed.”
Salas recognized those same traits in Arroyo. “He was incredibly diligent and I found him enthusiastic, always willing to research legal issues, always willing to help out in chambers,” she said. “Mr. Arroyo was a committed intern who took on numerous assignments which often required countless hours of research and writing on substantive issues before the court. It was a pleasure having him in chambers.”
In the spring Arroyo will move on to another internship at the New Jersey Assembly Republican Office as an Eagleton Fellow. In the future, Arroyo would like to combine his police work – his present duties are traffic control and coordinating the D.A.R.E. program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) in local schools – and legal background and possibly become a county prosecutor. Although he is busy with his career, law school and fatherhood, he envisions running for office one day.
“I feel like I can make a difference with all my experience and knowledge, and I want to pick up where my mom left off,’’ he says.