Provided by South Plains College
Imagine the gift of sight being dimmed. Light and scenes are now a memory and daily tasks are exceedingly more difficult. However, Matthew Gonzalez has been able to embrace his vision loss and go beyond his own expectations.
Gonzalez of San Antonio is a graduate of South Plains College. He obtained his associate degree and paralegal certificate last year despite the challenges he faced adjusting to life without sight. While between jobs, he learned about SPC's Paralegal Studies program. He said he has always had an interest in law and, although nervous, he knew this is something he would enjoy.
"I didn't know anyone in the program, and stepped out on faith," he said. "There was a door of opportunity the Lord opened for me so I ran through it."
Gonzalez said even though he did not know anyone when he began the program, he has made a few lasting friendships that he cherishes. He said he does not think he would have been able to achieve all he has if he had not met such kind, patient and determined peers.
"I've made some friends for life," he said. "And I've made friends that have the same mindset as me. We all want to be successful."
Trust is absolutely necessary when it comes to his friendships and success. He said his friends help him in areas where he cannot adjust easily. They often take time to explain diagrams, pictures and study other class materials that cannot be put into electronic format. He said he fully trusts them to help him succeed in these areas.
Another stepping stone Gonzalez faces is one that may be more familiar – time management. Day-to-day activity can be overwhelming and it may seem as though hours fly by entirely too fast. Gonzalez has learned how to adjust his time according to his work load. He said the most difficult thing is realizing he needs more time than most students to prepare for the classroom.
"The difference in time is the biggest struggle," he said. "Things that usually take some people one hour may take me three or four. I've had to determine where my time and focus need to be spent."
His motivation and perseverance for success stem from various reasons. He said one big motivating factor is that he feels he has people depending on him. With people donating money, time and resources into his education, he feels the need to give back to them.
"It's time for me to do my part for them," Gonzalez said.
Professors go the extra mile for Gonzalez and he appreciates the help. Often professors will read exams to him or have extra office hours to assist him with his class work. While several of his instructors told him they had never worked with a blind student before, they are learning to overcome obstacles together, Gonzalez said. His quick learning skills have been essential to his development.
"I learn differently. I can grasp and memorize things quickly and that has been great," he said.
Blindness is not the only task he has faced during his time in the paralegal program. Being one of only three males in the program has given him a unique perspective. He said in his experience, the women in the paralegal program tend to be older than most traditional college students. Most of the women have families, husbands and established lives. He thinks this is an advantage.
"What has helped having women here is that they're more patient and understanding," he said. "That sometimes rubs off on me, and they help me the most."
Having six sisters has helped him adjust to being outnumbered in the classroom. He said having mostly women in class does not bother him because of his upbringing. Gonzalez also has four brothers.
He said his faith has been what he leaned on through the duration of this journey. Although he does not have the sense of sight anymore, he feels blessed to be able to do other things. He said he still has a voice and a mind, and he intends to use both to the best of his abilities. He does not let this difference hamper his goals.
"Don't ever think you can't overcome something – thinking that way will hold you back," he said. "The worst thing you can do is believe you can't – always believe in yourself. Don't ever give up. It gets frustrating and it gets discouraging but nothing worth having comes easy. Hard work will pay off."
During his time at SPC he said he fell in love with law even more and has reached goals he did not think possible. He plans to transfer to Texas Tech University to continue on his journey in the law program.
He credits his achievements to the support of his family and the help he received from the staff in the South Plains College Reese Center Disability Services Office.