One graduate exemplifies the courage of degree completion students
Adult students face challenges as they return to school to complete their bachelor’s degree: family, work, sometimes health and personal issues. Romelia “Romie” Gonzalez has endured challenges enough for all 280 of her degree completion classmates.
In many ways Gonzalez was a typical FPU degree completion student. The Orosi native came with an associate degree, a job and a family, wanting to advance her career. She had already put commitments to others first. “I made a promise to my dad when he was dying,” she says. That promise, made in 1996, was to put her mother and sisters through college before she went.
Once the family graduated, Gonzalez figured it was her turn, but in 2002, only six months after getting married, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Chemotherapy put the breast cancer into remission, but Gonzalez’s marriage did not survive and the couple divorced in 2008.
Gonzalez took a deep breath and enrolled in the FPU business management program in 2010. Everything was going well; she was elected class representative and excelled in her classes at the North Fresno Center. Then, in August 2011, only four months before graduation, doctors told Gonzalez she had brain cancer.
This time it was radiation treatments and four months away from her studies. Another blow fell in March of this year when Gonzalez’s ex-husband, with whom she had remained friendly, died of a brain aneurism at age 37. Gonzalez briefly had second thoughts about returning. “I was very, very scared to go back to school because every time I did something bad happened,” she says.
Buoyed by her fellow students, Gonzalez did come back, but in a new cohort. (Degree completion students go through their programs in groups, called “cohorts,” that support one another.) “My cohort prayed a lot for me,” she says. “I’m glad that I was there.”
Faith—her own and that of loved ones, friends and co-workers—has kept Gonzalez going. “I don’t know why things happen, I just leave it in God’s hands. I’ve never lost my hope and I’ve never lost my faith,” she says.
She did make one prayer request. “I said, ‘Don’t take my memory bone and don’t take my funny bone,’” according to Gonzalez. Both must still be intact. “I still remember everything and I still laugh a lot too,” she adds. “I’m just thankful for everyone’s help.”
Today Gonzalez is cancer free and looking forward, not back. A member of the staff of Davita Dialysis Clinics for the last six years, she’d like to advance within the company, and someday own a recreation center for cancer survivors. “Somewhere where you don’t have to wear a wig and care about how you look,” she says with one of her frequent laughs.
Gonzalez did more than walk across the commencement stage May 5 on the University Green—she gave the invocation for her fellow graduates. Her first words were thanks to Jesus for allowing her to be there. Her prayers, at least, have been answered.