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From the fields to the classroom

Marcos Gonzalez’s father, a migrant worker in North Carolina, doesn’t make very many phone calls. 

When Gonzalez, a junior majoring in business and economics, received a phone call from his father last week to congratulate him on receiving $10,000 in scholarships and his summer spent abroad, Gonzalez said it was the first time his father made a personal phone call to him since he’s been in college.

“There’s not very many people that can make me tear up,” Gonzalez said. “But that conversation was… Let’s just say it was a very emotional conversation.”

His father also sent him a bucket of unripe tomatoes to hand out to guests at the ceremony in which he was presented with his scholarship. 

The bucket was similar to the one Gonzalez remembers using as he helped his family pick tomatoes every weekend since he was 13.

“I was always in the field, partially to help my family, but also because my dad wanted to make sure I was a hardworking man,” he said. “I was out in the field since I was six years old.”

As a child, he remembers playing in the fields while his mother and father worked in the grueling heat under the North Carolina sun.

“At six, I couldn’t really help do much, so I can remember grabbing a stick and then grabbing some tomatoes and throwing them up in the air to hit them, pretending it was baseball,” Gonzalez said.

In fall 2012, Gonzalez was accepted to USF and applied for the Business Honors Program, a cohort that accepts only 20 business students a year.

Business Honors Director Joni Jones recalls her thoughts on Gonzalez in his initial interview.

“I wrote down on his file, ‘Good candidate, extremely motivated, first-generation student,'” Jones said. “I remember saying to myself that first time we met that he seemed to have great leadership potential.”

She also got a letter of recommendation from one of Gonzalez’s instructors at Immokalee High School that read, “I can leave him with an assignment and not be worried because he has great responsibility attributes.”

A year from that first meeting, Gonzalez said Jones has become like a mother to him.

She has taught two classes that Gonzalez has taken and led the Florence, Italy trip that Gonzalez attended over the summer.

“The best way to describe it is that he was like a sponge, soaking it all up,” Jones said. “He wanted to absorb everything he saw. I think for him, this was a life-changing event. It really lit a fire under him and now he talks about how he wants to travel the world.”

Florence wasn’t the only international destination Gonzalez traveled to over the summer. After leaving Florence, Gonzalez took up an internship in Beijing, China, before heading to Dubai, London and Texas. 

In every place he visited, Gonzalez would make his way to the highest point overlooking the entire city.

“I spent so much of my life on farms. I wanted to see how different all these places were from what I knew,” Gonzalez said.

He took “selfies” in front of every landmark he visited. His favorite is a “selfie” he took in front of the Great Wall of China.

His parents were astounded by the pictures.

“I called my mom from abroad and I asked her, ‘Did you ever imagine that the boy who helped you pick tomatoes would be traveling abroad? Did you ever imagine he’d be seeing the Great Wall of China?,'” Gonzalez said.

His father came to the U.S. from a small town four hours south of Mexico City when he was 16. He came alone and didn’t speak English.

Traveling abroad, Gonzalez only knew English and Spanish. 

He said the experience of not knowing the language while being in a foreign country forced him to realize just how difficult his parents’ journey to the U.S. was.

“I was only there for three months. They’ve had to do it most of their lives,” he said.

After returning to USF, Gonzalez said he was reminded just how much he liked his new-found experience of living in one place.

“I can call my dorm home for the first time ever,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about packing it all up halfway through the year and moving somewhere else.”

With Gonzalez living on campus and exceeding academically, his parents are focusing on putting his younger brother and sister through school. 

Gonzalez hopes his younger brother continues to succeed at school and succeed as much as he has or more.

“We have a very competitive nature that runs in our family and I think that’s probably what has contributed to where I am today,” Gonzalez said. “But my brother is a smart kid and I honestly hope the best for him. I hope he sees where I am today and does even better.”

As humble as Gonzalez is, both in his beginnings and about his success, Jones said she has no doubt he is going to make a name for himself as he continues to progress in his academics and career.

“I don’t think there’s anything that he could not do,” she said. “He’s got great leadership skills and I think he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in our business community when that time comes.”