Growing up with seven siblings in Houston, Alberto Gonzales knew he wanted to be a success in life.
He was the only member of his family to attend college and worked his way to becoming the first Hispanic to serve as the United States Attorney General under former President George W. Bush. Tuesday morning inside the Gaertner Performing Arts Center Concert Hall, Gonzales shared his journey and offered advice to a room full of Sam Houston State students as part of the President's Speaker Series entitled "Pursuing Your American Dream."
Gonzales graduated from Rice University and earned his law degree from Harvard Law School. He went into private practice for 13 years before he was named general counsel to Bush when he was governor of Texas.
Gonzales would eventually serve as secretary of state of Texas in 1997 and as justice to the Texas Supreme Court in 1999. He told the students Tuesday that they were off to a great start to becoming successful, but to be sure and take advantage of opportunities when they are presented.
"You have started a solid foundation at Sam Houston, but what I tell the students as I travel the country is to prepare yourself," Gonzales said. "For me, President George W. Bush came along and gave me five once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Who would have ever thought a poor boy from Houston would work for the president of the United States? President Bush saw something in me and gave me a chance. That is something Hispanic people, poor people in the community say, 'Just give me a chance.'
"So at some point in your lives someone is going to come along and give you a chance. Hopefully you will recognize it and take advantage of it."
Gonzales served as counsel to Bush in 2001 and helped develop a response with other leaders to the terroristic attacks on Sept. 11. He was later appointed to serve as the 80th U.S. Attorney General from 2005 to 2007.
He was the first Hispanic selected to lead the nation's largest law enforcement office. He said he takes great pride in his heritage, but that he took more pride in being the Attorney General.
Gonzales said there was something missing from his life when he was in private practice, and once he decided to get into public service while working with Governor Bush, he found it.
"I realized how much good could be done for the people through public service," he said.
Gonzales said that he did not have much direction when he graduated high school so he joined the Air Force.
He said it helped shape him into the man he is today. He ended up being stationed in Fort Yukon, Alaska and there he met people that pushed him toward higher education by helping him get into the Air Force Academy.
When asked if he had any tips for college students, Gonzales said it all started with going to class.
"Just show up and go to class," he said as the room erupted into laughter. "Just showing enough gumption to go to class even if you haven't done any reading or are afraid you are going to be asked questions by the professor, just show up. That goes a long way toward being successful."
One of the more intimate moments Tuesday morning was when Gonzales shared a story about President Bush giving him a personal tour of the Executive Residence area of the White House before the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Bush showed him the Lincoln bedroom and talked about the paintings. They eventually ended up on the Truman Balcony which overlooks the south lawn. Gonzales said he had all sorts of friendly conversations with Bush when he was governor, but once he became president, especially after "the world changed" on 9/11, nothing was the same.
"We were on the Truman Balcony and you can see the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial beyond that and just he and I were standing on the balcony," Gonzales said. "We stood there for about 30 seconds without saying anything and I remember it was April and a light blue sky. I could feel the wind blowing and you could hear the traffic and tourists talking.
"I felt compelled to say something and the first thing that came to my mind was what is it like to be president of the United States. He looked at me and kind of laughed and said, 'It's kind of cool.' I laughed and I had two distinct feelings. This was someone I really knew. Imagine that someone you knew really well and they became president of the United States. How would you feel? I felt such great pride, but I also felt sad because I knew how special that moment was."
Gonzales told the audience that he was living his "American Dream" and they could too.
"My story is not unique," he said. "As I travel the country, there are people who come from nothing but it is because they believe in themselves, get a good education and begin a good foundation. Whether they are given an opportunity or make their own opportunity they are able to do something.
"This is a great country. People say it is in decline, but I do not believe that. We have some serious issues, there is no question about it. We worry about the partisanship that is in Washington today, but our people are strong and as long as you have hope and as long as you are given an opportunity then I have great faith in this country. I look at the students here at Sam Houston and I am energized. I have great faith for what is possible in this great country."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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