Grad Stories (2015)
At age six, Christopher Gonzalez decided he had to take care of himself. He never knew his father and his mom, who often worked days and nights to support the family, wasn’t around much.
Yet every night, when she got home from work, she would tell him, “I love you, son. You’re the most important person for me and I will never let you down in the good or bad days.”
Gonzalez held onto those words, but in the dark hours of too many sad nights spent alone, the pain seeped in.
At age 10, his life turned darker. He did drugs to forget his problems. Drugs tied him to a gang. Gangbanging led to a detention center. In eighth grade, Gonzalez dropped out of school and deeper into the violence on the streets of Hunting Park.
“I did not see a future for myself. I saw myself in jail or worse,” he said. “I was invisible to society. Nobody believed in me so I stopped believing in myself.”
He will never forget the life-changing moment where despair turned to determination. A friend took a bullet from a rival gangbanger’s gun that Gonzalez knew might just as easily found him instead. Running from the scene, he made a decision.
“I didn’t want that life anymore…alone with no family or real friends. I decided to change my life and future.”
A cousin in Corona provided a safe place to stay and an opportunity for Gonzalez to finish high school. He attended Centennial High, working hard to earn enough credits to graduate.
“I hardly would ever sleep or eat. My only focus was making sure to successfully complete my work, which allowed me to graduate with my diploma,” he remembers. “Now, I am the first one to attend college in my family.”
Gonzalez will graduate from Norco College this June and plans to transfer to CSU San Bernardino to earn a bachelor’s degree in Sociology, followed by a master’s degree. He says Norco College is the foundation of his education.
“Norco College and the Puente Program has given me the opportunity to grow as a student,” says the future college counselor. “College was not easy, but I was determined to change the way I thought, the way I study, and to become more independent. I have learned to always appreciate the things I have and not (regret) the things I don’t have.”
As someone who went down the wrong road, made a U-turn and found solid footing on a new pathway, Gonzalez shared this advice: Never quit in what you believe in. Build yourself up and be determined not to give up your dreams.
“We all deserve a second chance,” he said. “I got one and am thankful…I will always remember where I started.”
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