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Merced College Student of the Month

April 2011

Claudia J. Gonzalez

2010-2011 Outstanding Student of the Year

Claudia J. Gonzalez


Major:                           Psychology and Sociology

Interests:                       Psychology, Criminal Justice, and Journalism

Future Goals:                transfer to UC Berkeley

Nominating Instructor:  Gregory Soto, Transfer Counselor



Claudia J. Gonzalez has been chosen as the Merced College Outstanding Student for the month of April.  He was nominated by Merced College transfer counselor Gregory Soto. 

"I wasn't always enthusiastic about school."

That, according to Merced College's 2011 Student of the Year, is only one hurdle that had to be overcome before realizing success in college.

"As a matter of fact, I never thought that one day I would grow up to become the first person in my family to attend college," said Claudia Gonzalez, a psychology major from San Jose.

Gonzalez has overcome gangs, drugs and poverty on her way to earning a cumulative 3.88 GPA. Nominated by counselor Greg Soto, Gonzalez was also the College's Student of the Month for April. Her story proved to be so inspiring that she was Soto's first student nomination.

"As the college's transfer counselor, I've had the pleasure of working closely with some of the best students produced by Merced College," Soto said. "However, I've never felt compelled to nominate a student until now."

Gonzalez turned her life around after experiencing various incarcerations in juvenile hall and within the California Youth Authority system. She recounts her earlier life with honesty and clarity.

"Growing up on the mean streets of Eastside San Jose surrounded by gangs, drugs, poverty and corruption only fueled a hatred inside of me, and for long time; in my eyes, the police, the system and society were my enemies," she said.

"I was a runaway and a full-fledged gang member, and at 18 I was a hard-core drug addict," she said. "Unfortunately, by the age of 21, I was just another low-life criminal. Most of my life had been spent caught up in a tornado of lies, drugs, violence and crime. Gangs had, regrettably, become my life, the only thing I had going for me."

After surviving several drug overdoses, witnessing the murder of 10 of her friends and losing a brother to death in prison, Gonzalez says that a figurative lightning bolt hit her and she realized she needed to change.

"I realized that I was tired of being assaulted, that I was tired of always having to watch my back, tired of losing friends, tired of always being locked up, and tired of being a 'nobody,' " she said.

She left San Jose and ended up in Winton. She had no family and friends to rely on, only a plan to get her life in order. That's when she enrolled in Merced College.

"Initially, I entered the college as a last resort, but as the semester progressed and I tasted success in all of my courses, I realized that education was a valuable tool, a tool that I so desperately hungered for," she said. "I was also blessed in encountering magnificent instructors who, literally, changed my life and way of thinking. Thereafter, I focused on my education, and most importantly, I transformed into a new person, someone who wanted to succeed, with hopes, dreams, and plans of changing the world."

At Merced College, Gonzalez became a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, Alpha Gamma Sigma, and has served as the treasurer of the Psychology Club. Last year she formed the Criminal Justice Club and has volunteered with the Merced County Sheriff's Activities League. In another year, she'll transfer to UC Berkeley as a double major in psychology and sociology. She plans to work with at-risk youth.

"I'm a fighter, someone surviving against all odds," she said. "My life experiences have been my weapons to succeed, and although I may not have all the tools to be triumphant, I have the willpower and that's what matters.

"And one day, you'll see that I will change the world. I promise."

Merced College is privileged to have Claudia J. Gonzalez as a student and wishes to congratulate him on his accomplishments and to wish him well in all his future endeavors.

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Last updated on 05-03-11 by Julie Clark