Julius Gonzalez ’24 named Outstanding Islander Graduate for the School of Arts, Media, & Communication

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Achieving excellence both inside and outside the classroom is at the heart of being an Outstanding Islander Graduate. Each semester, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi selects a group of exceptional graduating Islanders — one from each academic college — who have made a lasting Islander Impact. These students are not only high academic achievers but have often overcome major adversity to reach the graduation stage.

This year’s seven Outstanding Islander Graduates will earn their diplomas at the Spring 2024 Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 18. Their journey to this moment — fueled by determination, perseverance, and grit — highlights their unwavering commitment to finishing what they have started.

Please join us in celebrating Julius Gonzalez ’24, who is earning a Bachelor of Music with teacher certification from the School of Arts, Media, & Communication.

When a violin is played well it can tell a story. One note can evoke deep sorrow, another a triumphant crescendo. Those two notes are familiar to Gonzalez, whose journey to the commencement stage is one of perseverance against tough odds.

Gonzalez, who is the sixth of fifteen children, grew up in a one-bath, two-bedroom home on the west side of San Antonio, an area Gonzalez said is known for its poverty and high crime rates. His crowded home was filled with love, but also with a lot of responsibilities.

“In the third grade, I was staying up all night tending to my baby sister while my parents were tending to my other baby siblings and working,” Gonzalez said. “My parents’ experiences taught me the value of sacrifice and determination. Because of them, I hoped to create a better life to make them proud and pay back all the sacrifices they made.”

A love of music that he learned from his father and a drive to improve his life’s circumstances is what ignited Gonzalez’s passion to become a music educator. That dream would move closer to reality during his senior year of high school when Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Music Professor Dr. Jose Flores visited Gonzalez’s high school and provided the young violin prodigy with a private lesson.

“Private lessons are a luxury that I was never afforded, but Dr. Flores offered it to me for free,” Gonzalez said. “It was my first and only private lesson before college. The wealth of knowledge I learned in those 45 minutes convinced me that I wanted to audition for his university.”

That audition proved successful, and Gonzalez was granted admission to TAMU-CC.

“My dream was to go to a college by the water,” Gonzalez said. “To me, the ocean represents freedom and success.”

Before that freedom and success could take root, Gonzalez had to overcome a major financial one.

“When I finally made it to college, I had no college savings account, no job lined up, not even a car,” Gonzalez recounted. “All I had was a will to do more with my life and one chance.”

That one chance would be auditioning for the Lichtenstein String Quartet, which offers a four-year full tuition scholarship to the university. Gonzalez seized that chance and won that coveted scholarship. He also became a member of Mariachi de la Isla, and for seven semesters, he was the TAMU-CC orchestra concertmaster.

Like the rest of the world, Gonzalez was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. He has a rare blood disorder called hereditary spherocytosis, which causes the destruction of blood cells and can negatively impact the gallbladder as well as the blood itself. In July 2021, he was admitted to the hospital with gallbladder pain and a lowered hemoglobin count. He also tested positive for COVID-19. The one-two punch took a tremendous toll on his body, and he landed in the ICU for almost a month.

“I could not pick up my instrument for extended periods and even lost the strength to open doors,” Gonzalez said. “I was only able to make it through thanks to the continued support of my professors, family, and friends.”

After a lifetime of highs and lows for such a young man, Gonzalez has reached a major milestone — graduation day. He hopes his story inspires the next generation of musicians because he believes music can enrich communities. He’s already gotten a taste of the power of music education thanks to his work teaching music to local students at Metro Elementary School of Design and the Antonio E. Garcia Arts and Education Center, as well as during his field-based and student-teaching experiences at Kaffie and Adkins Middle Schools and Veterans Memorial and King High Schools.

“Teaching is my way of paying life lessons forward, just as my teachers and family did for me,” he said. “Music connects us to our past, to our culture, and to each other, and it’s my duty to honor that.”

Ultimately, he gives immense thanks to Flores, who discovered him “as a diamond in the rough,” and his high school orchestra director Heather Gonzalez, who together, helped make his dreams and the dreams of his family come true. He also gives gratitude to Dr. Carrie Pierce, who guided him during his time with the Lichtenstein String Quartet and through student teaching.

“Throughout college, I’ve faced mortality more than anyone should, whether that be my Tío passing away from COVID, my sister being diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, my brother being shot and mugged, my middle school best friend dying of cancer at age 21, or my own near-death experience,” Gonzalez said. “But I also learned that pain is a part of life, and without immense sadness, there is no growth. On my first day as an Islander, I thought I would learn to be a musician, but I instead learned how to be a good person. A giving person. A person who provides something positive for the world, and one who knows how to pass on the lessons I have learned to the next generation.”