Husband and wife push through overwhelming life struggles to realize their career dreams
Mirna Gonzalez has struggled with serious medical problems since she was 16 years old. She was in and out of hospitals, endured multiple surgeries, and nurses regularly stopped by her house to monitor her progress. She did independent study for a while before graduating high school from a chartered military academy.
“There were a lot of physical requirements and it was a lot of hard work, but I just pushed through,” says Mirna. “I was very proud when I got my diploma like everyone else did.”
Right after her 2010 graduation, her condition worsened. “I was honestly on my death bed,” she remembers. She survived that medical crisis and began to piece her life back together.
She had known Alex since she was 14 years old, and he was there for her from the beginning. Together, over the years, they had three children: Imanol (12), Dylan (9) and Allison (3). “We grew up together, we had goals together; we talked about having something better for ourselves,” says Mirna.
“I always had the potential and always wanted to do something with myself,” says Mirna. Even though she didn’t do very well in high school, both she and Alex knew that education was their way to a better future. “My father worked in the fields, and we would be the first in our families to go to college. We would always say to each other: ‘better education, better job.’”
Right after she and Alex were married last March, he asked her an important question. “Are you ready?” Mirna knew he was talking about college. “My answer was ‘Yes!’” she says. “We knew it was going to be difficult. We all have something to keep us from moving forward; our kids, time, money. But if we really want it, we’re going to fight for it.”
One week later they were at SJVC’s Visalia campus where Mirna was discovering the Business Administration program and Alex was exploring the Criminal Justice: Corrections program. “For us, it was the greatest thing that could happen,” says Mirna. “We were making a big change and supporting each other. We called that our honeymoon,” she laughs.
They had checked out other colleges but liked several things that SJVC offered. “They had evening classes, which was something we were looking for,” says Mirna. “SJVC was very professional and had a dress code. We just both fell in love with the way they organized their classes for different programs.”
They didn’t hesitate, and both enrolled on the spot.
Alex had to cut some of his work hours to go to class and Mirna decided to try to work part-time to help out financially. “I couldn’t find a job, so I went to work in the fields picking cherries,” she says.
Four weeks into her Business Administration program, Mirna was at work when she fell head-first from a ten-foot ladder. She sustained a concussion and was in the hospital for three days.
“I broke some of my ribs, could barely move or talk,” says Mirna. “I came home in a wheelchair, with a chest and neck brace and a cast on my left arm.” Her doctors cautioned her against going back to school too soon. But Mirna couldn’t stand to miss class and all that she was learning. She returned to school the day after she was discharged from the hospital.
“I didn’t want to miss one more day of school,” she says. “I was there, on time, and ready to give it my all.” Her dedication didn’t go unnoticed.
“Mirna would come to class in her wheelchair and continue to work as hard as she always did,” says David Morra, Business Administration instructor. “There were days I could see the pain and tears in her eyes, and I would ask if she needed to go home. She always said ‘no.’”
With this new physical challenge, things got a lot harder at home. “We get through it every day,” says Mirna. “We’re managing week-to-week, month-to-month. It’s tight, and we don’t have much help, but nothing is going to stop us.”
They have found a lot of support at school. “Mr. Morra and Lt. Hernandez (Criminal Justice: Corrections program instructor) have been the most supportive for both of us,” says Mirna. “Sometimes we don’t even have a babysitter, gas to get to school or someone to give us a ride. That’s when they’re there for us, or they will direct me to somebody. I’ve gone a long way because of those two.”
Mirna is holding tight to a dream she has had since she was 16 when she ran her uncle’s flea market business. She wants to own and manage a restaurant. “I want to bring generations of Mexican food recipes for others to enjoy,” she says. “My mom was always cooking authentic Mexican dishes, and I can’t wait to put it out there.”
Her 3.65 GPA will help her make that vision a reality. “When Mirna was a student representative at our Advisory Board meeting, a number of the employers told her that they would like to have her at their company,” says Mr. Morra.
Soon Mirna and Alex’s sacrifices of leaving their kids at night for someone else to tuck in, eating their own dinner in their parked car and depending on the kindness of others to make it all work, is almost over.
“What keeps me going is my husband,” says Mirna. “He’s the one who is providing for all of us, managing to go to school and supporting me emotionally. Just to see him thrive and move forward; it inspires me to do the same.”
They will both graduate in June, taking a strengthened commitment to each other and their future, as well as their hard-won career education with them.
Their almost insurmountable hardships only confirmed what they already knew. “Life is difficult, but not impossible,” says Mirna. “If something is hard, you’re going to have to want it to succeed. That has been my model, and here I am. This is my time.”
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