Tragedy in Paris - Higher Education
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Tragedy in Paris

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“Nohemi Gonzalez, an American college student …”

That was the phrase we all heard this weekend. The first American to be identified in the U.S. media after the horrific acts of terrorism last Friday, Nov. 13, in Paris.

Let’s not forget that name—Nohemi Gonzalez—as American as it gets in our diverse society, representing the best the future had to offer.

Indeed the 23-year-old Gonzalez was destined for greatness in design. Called “a shining star,” by Michael LaForte, her professor in design at California State University, Long Beach, Gonzalez was a student at the Strate School of Design in Paris on an international exchange program when she was killed last week.

She was out for some fun with some classmates at one of the restaurants that was attacked.

She was the only one of her friends who left on a stretcher.

If only her name were attached to some breakthrough she had invented instead. The signs were all there. On Facebook, she was proud of her team’s second place finish in a biomimicry global design challenge inventing a biodegradable snack pack that can sprout plants. She had her sights set on greatness and was capable of so much more. The Los Angeles Times reported one of the last things  Gonzalez wrote on social media: “Learning a 3D modeling computer program in a language I don’t know is up there in the top 3 hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”

Now Gonzalez’ life is cut short by a simple, cowardly act of terrorism that only seems to magnify the injustice of it all.

“Nohemi was something of a star in our department,” said CSULB’s La Forte at a Saturday news conference. “She was a deep profound presence in our department and she will be extraordinarily, profoundly missed.”

I didn’t know Gonzalez, but I know people like her from her circumstances when I see it.

They’re bright, young, and ambitious. Full of potential, just waiting for their chance to make their mark on the world.

“I feel lost, sadness and she was my only daughter,” Beatrice Gonzalez, mother of Nohemi Gonzalez, said to KABC-TV. “She was a very strong young woman. She had big decisions, when she went to do something she committed to whatever she was doing.”

Nohemi, born in the Los Angeles area, lived with her parents in El Monte, east of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley. A city of about 116,000, it’s a tough American suburb.

According to the 2010 Census, it’s 39 percent White; and more than 60 percent Hispanic.

But the economic stats are also revealing.

The median income is just $39,535. About 24.3 percent of the population is considered to live below the poverty level.

This is where Gonzalez was from. But she wasn’t hindered by her background. She sought and was given opportunities to develop and go beyond any stereotypes that would limit her.

Education was her answer and her hope.

Gonzalez was an intelligent, ambitious, young woman with many gifts. She displayed her technical acumen in design and seemed destined for great things as an inventor of whatever her mind could imagine.

Gonzalez was a success story for all of those who fight to create pathways in higher education for those to follow their dreams.

And now her dream is part of history, the first American in Paris identified in the Nov.13 attacks, the start of the new fight of the world.

Gonzalez’ life represents the hope that is higher ed, diversity, and how it equals real opportunity in our modern times.

We must not let terrorism defeat that.

Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator who writes on race and diversity issues for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and NBCNews.com. Contact: www.fb.com/emilguillermomedia; www.twitter.com/emilamok ; www.amok.com

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