This story is part of a series of profiles the Ventura County Office of Education is presenting about outstanding graduating seniors in the Class of 2019.
Alex Gonzalez had just started his freshman year at Simi Valley High School when he found out his mom, dad and little sister would all be leaving the country while he stayed behind and lived at a friend's house. It was part of the process for his mom to become a US resident and it was only supposed to last for three weeks. But then an unexpected glitch meant his mom didn't know when or if she'd be able to return from Mexico. Alex still remembers getting the phone call. "I'm usually a pretty stoic person, but I actually started crying. I was like what do you mean you're not coming back?"
Alex's dad and sister did return, but as weeks stretched into months without his mom, he began to struggle in school. "Usually my mom would be there doing her mom responsibilities and pushing me, but I didn't have that anymore," he says. Then, after four months had passed, his mom got her residency and was able to come home to Simi Valley. But Alex's troubles weren't finished.
Long-simmering family troubles boiled over, leading to meetings with social workers, court-ordered therapy sessions and a restraining order that severed the strained relationship Alex had with his father. With his mom's love, and support from his friends and church community, Alex found the strength to rise above the challenges he faced. He says thinking about his relatives who got involved with gangs and drugs became a source of inspiration. "I viewed that as a template for what I shouldn’t be. So, I strive to be better with what I've been offered," he says.
Alex rededicated himself to his studies, taking 11 honors and advanced placement courses and bringing his grade point average up to 3.7. He also got involved with high school sports, playing basketball and running track and cross country. In the little free time he has, he helps his mom with her job cleaning houses. "I wake up in the morning and go wherever she goes and we'll just work. That's something we do together," he says.
Alex says there are two other people who deserve a lot of the credit for helping him overcome his difficulties – Simi Valley High School Principal Dean May and his school counselor Lana Wastell. "They were super supportive and were always available when I needed to talk. Sometimes I'd think, why do they care so much," he says. "I'm really thankful for these two people who aren’t even my family and yet they truly helped me."
This fall Alex will attend Moorpark College with plans to transfer to UCLA. His goal is to become a doctor. "My life experience has shaped me into a person who wants to help others and I also love science. What better way is there to combine compassion and science than to be a doctor," he says. His advice for other kids who are struggling with family troubles: don't blame yourself and focus on school "because getting an education is truly worth it."
More Stories about the Ventura County Class of 2019