Gonzalez forges his own path and challenges graduates to define their own success
College commencement speakers are usually prominent individuals who offer advice about achieving success, based on decades of experience. GGC’s commencement speakers have included Ambassador Andrew Young and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, but for its fall 2013 ceremony, the college challenged convention and selected Homero Gonzalez, 24, to speak. For such a young person, his insights were profound.
“Usually, when we think about success we think about achievements, wealth, respect or fame, but success is such a vague word,” Gonzalez said. “What achievements, how much wealth, what amount of fame or respect makes us truly successful?”
A Hard-working Child
In his speech, Gonzalez told of a Mexican child born to a poor family of seven children. To help support his family, he started working at age five – when most children begin kindergarten – delivering papers and polishing shoes. He worked as a cowboy on the family farm and spent hot afternoons cutting grass to feed the cattle. He also picked oranges in local orchards and by 13, he worked in construction. At 14, he was on his own in a large city, working two and three factory shifts. Because family needs came first, he did not finish middle school. Determined to change his life, he decided to chase the American Dream.
At 17, the young man immigrated to the United States. He taught himself English, buying study guides and jotting down new words every day into his matchbooks so he could look them up after work. He built a successful career in construction, became a U.S. citizen and moved his family to Georgia.
This young man who worked so hard to ensure a bright future for his family is Gonzalez’s father.
“To me …that is success. Not fame, not wealth, not awards, but overcoming your challenges. Fighting for and staying true to what you believe in,” Gonzalez said. “True success is proving to yourself that you did it, but most importantly, that you never gave up.”
The Family Dream
Gonzalez faced his own language challenges. However, due to his father’s hard-working example, he didn’t allow these challenges to keep him from achieving his goal of a college degree.
Gonzalez came to GGC because of its access mission. He was skeptical at first, but after being impressed at an open house, he enrolled as part of the first freshmen class. It was a big decision, as he was the first member of his family to go to college – something he has in common with 49 percent of GGC students.
Like many GGC students, he had to take a student success course to better prepare himself for his other college courses – in his case, English. Once he completed the course, he embarked on a successful college career hallmarked by leadership.
Gonzalez served as president of the Organization of Latin American Students and was active in other student organizations. He served the Student Government Association as senator and vice president. He attended a study abroad program in Europe and participated in community service projects, including a reading program for Hispanic children which he developed.
Gonzalez secured a position at Telemundo Atlanta, where his work includes multi-media marketing, social media engagement, creative design and on-air promotions. As part of special news project teams, he received two Emmy awards from the Southeast Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Not bad for someone who had been told college was not a viable option.
In his commencement address, Gonzalez explained that while transitioning to high school, he had to select either a technical track or a college-prep track.
“When I met with my advisor, she insisted that because I was still learning English I should conform to a technical diploma. She said concentrating on improving my English, and learning a trade, was probably a better option than a college degree. That’s the extent of the potential she saw in me. Imagine if I would have ‘conformed.’ You should always forge your own path – and like my father, I did,” he said. “I wish I could go back and show her these!”
Gonzalez then triumphantly lifted his two Emmy Awards into the air, amid enthusiastic applause and cheers from the audience of 3,000.
Earning his college degree fulfilled his parents’ dream, Gonzalez said. He does not hesitate to point out that were it not for his father’s hard work and his parents’ sacrifice of leaving their own families and home country, he would not be where he is today. He humbly sees his Emmy Awards in the same light – his success is his parents’ success.
Gonzalez had such a positive experience at GGC that his two younger brothers, Esteban and Arnoldo, also enrolled at the college, further realizing the family’s goals.
“I have no doubt that each of you will have your version of the type of challenges my father and I encountered. You will have your own version of our success stories, and you will have your own version of these Emmys,” Gonzalez said to the graduates. “How will you go about reaching success? That’s up to you. That’s the adventure. That’s the thrill that makes life worth living ... You can always forge your own path.”
Find more transformative stories about the GGC experience in Engage Magazine.