Former U.S. Atty. Gen. shares life lessons with CHS students
By Kerri Bartlett, Assistant Editor
From a poor family in the cotton farming business to Counsel to the President of the United States, Judge Alberto R. Gonzales shared his life’s journey and successes with about 200 JROTC students at Centennial High School yesterday.
Gonzales grew up in Texas without hot running water and without a telephone until he was a junior in high school he said. A self-proclaimed “late-bloomer,” Gonzales admitted that he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.
However, he took cues from others that he respected early, which contributed to his decision to enter the Air Force, graduate from Harvard Law School, serve as Counsel to the President of the United States and then as U.S Attorney General.
“Dream big dreams,” Gonzales told students. “You never know when a George W. Bush will come along and offer you the opportunity of a lifetime. Hopefully, when that opportunity comes, you will recognize it and be prepared.”
Gonzales paid his way through college by working part-time jobs and by student loans, grants and the G.I Bill. He told students that investing in themselves and in their education is worth it, even if student loans must be sought.
“My best friend’s dad in high school had been in the Air Force for 30 years, so I decided to go,” Gonzales said. “I had no motivation for college. I would have not gone to college if it weren’t for the military.”
After graduating from prestigious institutions such as Rice University and Harvard Law School, he practiced law at a private firm in Houston where he eventually became “bored, bored, bored,” he said.
He desired to serve the public and meet more challenges.
Then one day, he received a call to become counsel to the President, which served as the catalyst for a new direction in public service on a national level. After serving as Counsel to the President of the United States for George W. Bush from 2001-05, Gonzales was appointed to U.S. Attorney General from 2005-07.
Working directly with the president was by far his favorite career move, he said.
“I never missed a day in two years (as Attorney General) because it was so exciting,” he said. “The presidency is a marathon. Working as assistant to the president is like a sprint. You work as hard as you can for two years. Then you die, and are replaced. The job is for a young person.”
Gonzales said that his passion is public service and that he wouldn’t trade a paycheck in the private sector for the task.
He also told of his days at the White House during September 11 when he met the vice president and other officials in an underground bunker at the White House after the attacks.
“When I was serving the president, my main goal was to protect America. That was the president’s goal, so it was mine too.”
During the talk, students asked Gonzales about the different professional and personal phases of his life and career.
“Know the value of hard work and excellence,” Gonzales said. Build upon that and be productive. You can achieve great things no matter skin color, last name or zip code.”
One student asked if he had faced challenges due to being Hispanic. “I have faced discrimination,” Gonzales said. “I feel like I’ve been respected and hurt because of my ethnicity. I don’t get caught up in why someone got an opportunity; it’s what you do with it.”
Students also quizzed Gonzales about pertinent issues in today’s society including Second Amendment regarding gun rights, healthcare reform, and foreign policy.
Concluding the talk, Gonzales encouraged students to grab a hold of their future.
“I believe that God gives us special gifts and talents. Take those talents and make a difference,” he said. “America is only great because of its people. The future of America is in your hands. Now is your time.”
Gonzales is currently the Doyle Rogers Distinguished Chair of Law at Belmont University and Counsel at the law firm of Waller Lansden Dortch and Davis. Gonzales was most recently appointed to the Tennessee Courts Commission by Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee.
Posted on: 10/30/2013