Works in Progress: Melecio Gonzalez




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 o’clock on a hot summer afternoon, you learn a lot about work ethic—and I’m 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.

“I’ve 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 life—get into medicine and possibly get an MBA to try to provide opportunities for families like mine.

“It’s a big dream, but I want to have my own health care facilities to provide low-cost care for impoverished families.”

Last summer, Melecio’s 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 Scott’s 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. He’s 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 hasn’t 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; it’s hard to explain it, but I knew it was the place for me.”

It seems strange that Gonzalez would come several thousand miles to Wabash to open his mind to the world’s diversity, but it’s true.

“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 75–80 percent Hispanic; reality is a mixture and I knew that when I came here.

“I’ve been exposed to different cultures, traditions, and religions, and that’s 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 what’s out there; who each of us really is."

While solidly pre-med in his course choices, one of Gonzalez’s 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 County—all the way back to Mexico via buses.

“What I discovered,” says Gonzalez, “is that the Hispanics are coming here because they want better educational opportunities for their children. It’s 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. It’s kicked my butt a few times, but that’s 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.”