Aileen Gonzalez, a criminal justice major at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), has experienced a lot of “hard moments” throughout her life.
When she was an infant, she was diagnosed with Craniosynostosis, a birth defect in which the joints between the bones of the skull fuse before the brain is fully formed. The disorder left her eyes “bulging” by the time she entered kindergarten, which is when she began having headaches and other issues that made it difficult for her to play with other children.
Her health worsened the following year, and she was frequently absent from her first grade class to address her condition. This affected her class work and prompted her school to place her in special classes that she didn’t need. Compounding her challenges was ridicule from classmates that went on for years. “All I ever did was cry,” she said.
The classmate bullying she endured made her feel useless and alone, but Gonzalez eventually learned to not doubt herself. A life-saving surgery she received to correct the Craniosynostosis also gave her a new appreciation for life.
“After the surgery, I had a long stitch that touched from ear to ear, and screws were placed to separate my bones. My dad used a screwdriver to turn the screws. That helped,” said Gonzalez, who was in intensive care for five days after the surgery. “The surgery helped me … learn that my condition didn’t make me less of a person. In fact, it made me realize that I can succeed in life.”
And succeed she has. Today, Gonzalez is a very confident woman who is well on her way to earning her bachelor’s degree at CSUDH. She has achieved success as a violinist, which includes performances at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and at the Hollywood Bowl, and her accomplishments have garnered her California State University’s (CSU) 2017 CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement. The Trustees’ Award, the CSU’s highest recognition of student achievement, provides scholarships of $6,000 to $12,000 to CSU students–23 this year–who demonstrate superior academic performance, personal accomplishments, community service and financial need.
“The CSU Trustees Scholarship has allowed me to see that I can accomplish anything. It makes me feel that my hard work and education are not being taken for granted,” said Gonzalez, who was named the SoCalGas Trustees Scholar. “Being recognized by my university is an amazing feeling. I am grateful for my sponsor for granting me this scholarship because it is hard to be a college student, and books can get expensive.”
After graduating from CSUDH, Gonzalez plans to apply to USC to earn her master’s degree and eventually go on to get a juris doctorate in law. She aspires to become an immigration lawyer, with the ultimate career goal of serving as a U.S. congresswoman and fighting for human rights.
“[As a congresswoman] I want to create a different environment, one where people are treated with respect, and where human rights are not violated,” she said. “I believe that education is the key to success, and the key to changing many people’s lives.”