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Damian Gonzalez is ready to take the next steps on his academic journey.
Gonzalez, the valedictorian of the Veterans Memorial High School Class of 2020, is one of 300 students in the country to earn a Gates Foundation Scholarship. A “last-dollar” scholarship that will fund every other expense not covered by other scholarships, the Gates funding will provide the foundation for a supported start at the collegiate level.
A participant in jazz, concert and marching band, where he played the trombone and euphonium, Gonzalez was also an avid competitor in U.I.L. events such as calculators, math, number sense and science. Gonzalez will most miss the competition opportunities he enjoyed while at VMHS.
“I got to compete against my close friends who I consider almost like family,” Gonzalez said, noting that some of his best friends since kindergarten were on teams with him. “To compete with your family at the highest level, it’s amazing to do.”
Gonzalez will be attending Rice University in the fall, where he will major in mechanical engineering.
“I wanted to do mechanical engineering so I could then in the future specialize in aerospace engineering,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve always been interested in dealing with anything in space, and aeronautics, and I’m hopeful to one day work for SpaceX or NASA.”
Putting himself out into the “real world” is what excites Gonzalez most about attending a university in Houston.
“I’ll get to showcase my talents somewhere else and see how I stack up against everybody else,” Gonzalez said. “I’m looking forward to the new people and the new culture.”
The Gates Foundation Scholarship application process is extensive, starting in Sept. 2019 and running through several rounds of essays and interviews. Over 36,000 students applied for this year’s scholarship, and ultimately 300 students in the United States were chosen – Gonzalez among them.
Gonzalez said that while the final interviews went well, he didn’t expect to receive the scholarship.
“I had to read it again to make sure I got it,” Gonzalez said. “Then I told my dad about it.”
The Gates Foundation Scholarship has provided Gonzalez with the kind of assistance he refuses to take for granted. He compared it to the notion that everyone is going to have to take the stairs, and he was given the chance to take the elevator.
“You practice and you train and you work hard so that when an opportunity comes along you can take it,” Gonzalez said on how he was raised by his parents. “I’m not going to become laid back, when I see this opportunity, I’m going to use it to step on the gas.”
With this opportunity, Gonzalez said he is excited to see what he’ll be able to accomplish.
“I have a lot more opportunities and tools at my table,” Gonzalez said.
He spoke highly of the culture at VMHS and how they’ve fostered unity in their classes.
“What makes it special is that the people are always working toward something or fighting through something – I felt that that culture kind of helped me get that edge,” Gonzalez said. “The Class of 2020, and the teachers are amazing. The people are what I am going to miss.”
Gonzalez attributed his success to several Coaches – Guerrero, Montoya and Marquez, as well as his teammates Paul McCoy, Rodrigo Moran and Luis Chavez.
“You’re never going to achieve anything alone,” Gonzalez said. “You can work as hard as you want by yourself, but you can only achieve so much. You need to surround yourself with others to help you succeed, and you’re going to succeed by helping them succeed.”
With all his passion and fervor, Gonzalez was given the nickname “the bean with the dream” by his teachers and peers. He also wanted to thank his parents for being a constant support throughout his childhood and education.
“They’ve always been there with me for every step,” Gonzalez said. “[They gave me] my whole working endeavor and work ethic that many people know me for.”