The Value of an Education
Melecio Gonzalez has learned
a lot about science, psychology, and the world during
his four years at Wabash.
His most important lessons,
though, came from his father, who dropped out of
school in his native Mexico to help his family,
but taught his own sons the value of education.
His lesson plan: hard work in the blazing sunshine
during long Nebraska summers.
A biology major at Wabash, Melecio
grew up in Raymondville, Texas with his parents,
Viviana and Melecio, and his two brothers. Every
summer the elder Melecio would pack up his family
and move north to Nebraska, where they were migrant
workers harvesting sugar beets.
He could have made more
money staying in Texas and doing his regular job,
says Gonzalez. But he knew if he took us out
to the fields we would learn the value of hard work,
the value of a dollar, and the value of an education.
At two oclock on a
hot summer afternoon, you learn a lot about work
ethicand Im a better person for that.
For the last several summers,
Gonzalez has moved from the sugar beet fields to
clinics that provide free or low-cost health care
to the migrant community. He and his brothers got
sick a lot during those long summers in the fields.
His family had to rely on the Panhandle Community
Services (PCS) Health Center. Melecio, a licensed
certified nursing assistant, now works in those
clinics that once looked after his family.
Ive been on the other
side of it, receiving the help, so now I just want
to give back, he says. Going to those
clinics showed me exactly what I wanted to do with
my lifeget into medicine and possibly get
an MBA to try to provide opportunities for families
Its a big dream, but
I want to have my own health care facilities to
provide low-cost care for impoverished families.
Last summer, Melecios family
did not return to Nebraska. But he and his brother
did. PCS called and asked Mel and his brother, Raul,
a Wabash freshman, to help out. The duo worked tirelessly
to recruit other Hispanics to volunteer at the clinics
in Alliance and Scotts Bluff.
PCS found us useful and
helpful, and that was important, Gonzalez
says. And it taught me that if you help in
the community, you ultimately help yourself.
Melecio has approached his Wabash
experience in much the same way. Hes held
offices in his Kappa Sigma fraternity, played sports,
and as a senior pledged the Sphinx Club, all the
while holding down a solid GPA that should land
him in medical school.
His path to Wabash hasnt
been all that different from many South Texan Hispanics.
Admissions counselor Walter Blake got a hold
of me my junior year and did not let go, says
Gonzalez. He attended a visit weekend and later
came for Honor Scholarship Weekend. I fell
in love with the whole Wabash phenomenon; its
hard to explain it, but I knew it was the place
It seems strange that Gonzalez
would come several thousand miles to Wabash to open
his mind to the worlds diversity, but its
I was raised in a predominantly
Hispanic area, and I knew that coming to Wabash
would either make me real comfortable or very uncomfortable,
he says with his poster-sized smile. Real
life is not 7580 percent Hispanic; reality
is a mixture and I knew that when I came here.
Ive been exposed to
different cultures, traditions, and religions, and
thats made me appreciate my own heritage that
much more. It seems to me that racism is just ignorance.
And I think Wabash is doing a fantastic job of helping
students understand whats out there; who each
of us really is."
While solidly pre-med in his course
choices, one of Gonzalezs most teachable moments
came about through political science professor Andrew
Schlewitz. Schlewitz was conducting a summer internship
to study migration patterns of Hispanics who have
come to Crawfordsville. To study it most fully,
Schlewitz took a couple of students and reversed
the trip most local Hispanics took to get to Crawfordsville
and Montgomery Countyall the way back to Mexico
What I discovered,
says Gonzalez, is that the Hispanics are coming
here because they want better educational opportunities
for their children. Its that simple. In Mexico,
there are very few opportunities for education beyond
the sixth grade without great financial privilege.
So the kids leave school because their parents have
no money. And the whole cycle just repeats itself.
Now the lesson plan his father
began during those long Nebraska summers has begun
to gain new meaning for Melecio Gonzalez.
I feel blessed to have gotten
the education I have, he says. I love
Wabash. Its kicked my butt a few times, but
thats been a good thing. It has given me confidence
to know that I want to be a doctor, create change,
and lead in my community. Now I want to go back
to Texas and prove that I can be a leader.