In addition to being a first-generation college student, Edwin Gonzalez will also be the first college graduate in his family. (Courtesy photo)

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

Of all the triumph and adversity that veteran Edwin Gonzalez has experienced, one guiding principle that he live by, drives his success in life: hard work pays off. 

Gonzalez, 43, is a first-generation college student and is overcome with joy for the historical accomplishment he made in his family.

“My sister never went to college. My cousins and close relatives never went to college. They never had the opportunity,” said Gonzalez, now a resident of Reisterstown. “So, for me to accomplish this, I can’t even put into words the type of emotion that builds.” 

Born in El Salvador, and at just three years old, he and his immediate family migrated to San Diego, Calif., then shortly thereafter to Manhattan, N.Y. A traumatic experience he witnessed as a child led to his family’s transition from the Central American country to the United States.

Gonzalez’s grandfather, a former employee of the El Salvadoran government, was murdered in front of him, his sister and mother.

“At that point, my mother realized it was too dangerous for us to be there, so she left,” Gonzalez said. She began to save money so that Gonzalez and other relatives could also move to the U.S., he added.

For about eight years, Gonzalez’s family resided in Manhattan before moving to a nearby town in New Jersey, which is where he attended middle and high school.

Gonzalez characterized himself as an undisciplined child who hated school. When he was 18, he joined the military, a decision that would later prove to be life-changing.

Throughout his 20-year tenure in the Navy, Gonzalez served in various capacities. He began as a deck seaman, later became a self-taught mechanical engineer and went on to work as a jet engine mechanic before becoming a recruiter in Washington, D.C. 

After retiring from the Navy in 2017, Gonzalez set his sights on academic pursuits by enrolling at Stevenson University before transferring to the University of Baltimore.

Gonzalez is now on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration on business, digital communications and arts.

After graduating, Gonzalez, an aspiring entrepreneur, said he has goals of obtaining a real estate home inspector certification in addition to becoming a licensed independent contractor specializing in construction. 

What inspired Gonzalez to further his education was simple. He wanted to send the message to his children that “hard work pays off.” While the phrase is widely considered cliché, it is a valuable concept that has made Gonzalez the man he is today.

In addition to his children who are 18, 17 and 6, Gonzalez has a 21-year-old step daughter who is a junior in college. He hopes to inspire his children to say “if dad can do it, I can do it too.” 

“If you believe it and you do it, it will work out for you,” he said. “Hopefully and all the children see that, and not just with myself but with my wife. Hopefully they learn from that. I don’t want them to go through the same mistakes that I made.”

Gonzalez, also an engineer with Domino Sugar since August 2017, began courses at UB in the fall of 2018. He hopes to use his degree to substantially impact the city, he said.

For his capstone course at UB, he’s writing a proposal that would involve securing grants from the City of Baltimore and additional funding and partnerships with local organizations to help reconstruct abandoned homes located throughout North Avenue.

Furthermore, Gonzalez anticipates making two highly influential people in his life proud: his mother and now deceased grandmother.

“It gets me very emotional. I’ve got tears running down my face because I never knew this much excitement would ever be possible for me,” Gonzalez explained.

“I’m excited to show my mother, ‘Look ma, I made it!’ My biggest fan was my grandmother. My grandmother was always with me through thick and thin. She raised me, basically, and she passed away in December, so I really would have wanted to show her, ‘Look, I made it!’”

Gonzalez will graduate from the University of Baltimore with his Bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration on business, digital communications and arts on May 20.