As Gonzalo Gonzalez took a noisy and energetic group of kindergartners through the day’s PE lesson last spring, he was aware that statistically, he shouldn’t be here – not in Kansas and certainly not beginning a career as a teacher.

Gonzalez (his friends call him Gonzo) was completing his student teaching at Northeast Elementary School in Arma in advance of graduating with a BSEd from PSU in May. It’s not an outcome that demographers, social scientists or even Gonzalez himself would have said was likely.

From the day he was born, Gonzalez has beaten the odds.

I have been blessed to have people in my life who care about me.

Gonzalo Gonzalez, Jr., was born in 1990 to Gonzalo and Araceli Gonzalez in Oceanside, Calif., where his parents had settled after immigrating from Mexico.

“I was born with leukemia,” Gonzalez said. “For a long time, every time I was sick, it was a life-threatening situation.”

Although Gonzalez’s health improved, his odds of success still seemed long.

“My dad has a fourth-grade education,” Gonzalez said. “He drives a tractor and my mom cleans homes. Where I grew up, if you were Mexican, you weren’t going on to school.”

It was an area plagued by gang activity, said Daniel Esposito, who recruited Gonzalez to play baseball at Southwestern Oregon Community College (SWOCC). After two years at SWOCC, Gonzalez followed Esposito to PSU where he finished out his baseball career and focused on a career in education.

Gonzalez said many things, even his illness, have played a role in his success.

“Probably because of my illness when I was a kid, I have always been interested in health and physical education,” Gonzalez said. “I want to teach young people why being healthy is so important.”

He gives much of the credit to his parents, who valued education and refused to let him become a statistic, and also to baseball for giving him the opportunity to get a degree.

“I have been blessed to have people in my life who care about me,” he said.

Among those are Esposito, who is now the head baseball coach at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, and his wife, Tami.

“We are extremely proud of him as he graduates with a degree,” Esposito said. “Over the past five years, Gonzo has been like family and we are excited to see what the future has in store for him.” •