Fernando Octavio Gonzalez, a 29-year-old veteran and White Plains resident, will represent the class of 2012 as its speaker during this year’s commencement ceremony on May 18.
Gonzalez grew up in Florida where he dropped out of a Florida state university and joined the U.S. Army Reserves. As a chemical operations specialist and sergeant on active duty in Iraq in 2006–2007, his job was to identify hazardous materials and dispose of them.
Always fascinated with computers, he landed a job with Apple, Inc. in Florida upon his return from Iraq. He was assigned to help open and work in the new glass-box Apple retail stores in Manhattan. Meanwhile, as a reservist, he continued to train other soldiers in chemical operations.
When Gonzalez’s fiancé was accepted to study law in Westchester, he looked around at nearby colleges. He liked Purchase College because of its relatively small size and the friendliness of students and staff, so he enrolled in 2009. As a child, he had been inexplicably drawn to Japanese culture and language, so he found the college’s study abroad program in Japan additionally appealing. He felt it was the perfect time to apply for admission and take advantage of the new GI bill to pay his tuition.
Once a student at Purchase, he studied in Japan for a semester at Kansai Gaidai University, greatly enriching his studies in history and political science. His senior project focuses on Chinese immigrants to California in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
“Beyond consistently making the dean’s list, Fernando participated in the community, on campus (history club, teaching assistant, study abroad program events) and off campus (US Army Reserves Tactical Psychological Operations Company, International Law Society),” said Jason Alt, director of student life and community partnerships at Purchase.
Fernando was chosen as one of four finalists to deliver the student commencement speech and ultimately received the honor because “the selection panel connected with him on a human level and appreciated his sincere and humble nature,” said Alt.
“I’m very proud to have been selected,” said Gonzalez. “I wholeheartedly embrace the learning experience and campus life at Purchase, and am forever in debt to and connected to my professors.”
Gonzalez has applied to the Teach for America program, and may commit to teaching low-income students next year.
For more information about Purchase College please visit http://www.purchase.edu/