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First in family to attend college, East Hall High student wants to be anesthesiologist
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East Hall High senior Ray Gonzalez. - photo by Scott Rogers

Rey Gonzales lost his mother a couple years ago. It was the most difficult period of his life. 

But this son of Mexican immigrants is nothing if not strong, transforming his deepest pain into his greatest source of motivation. 

“That moment really propelled me into a whole different state of mind,” Gonzales said. 

A recurring bout of stomach ulcers proved fatal while his mother was visiting Mexico and was unable to receive adequate care. Since then, he has been determined to make sure that others don’t have to suffer like his mother did. 

“That's what kind of directed me toward anesthesia,” he said. “The care wasn’t anywhere near what it should have been.” 

He juxtaposed that experience to the stellar care his mother had previously received for the same condition while staying at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center and was inspired by one of the nurses there. 

“The one thing that I really noticed that lit up my mom's day were the nurses that came, and there was this one specific nurse I remember,” he said. “She would always cook cupcakes and she would bring them to my mom.” 

After high school, he plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing at University of North Georgia then work in the ICU before returning to college and earning his doctorate in anesthesiology. He hopes to eventually open his own practice. 

After graduating from East Hall High School, Gonzales will be the first person in his family to go to college. The significance of that achievement and the sacrifices that underlie it are not lost on him. 

The third youngest of seven siblings, a number of his older brothers had to drop out of high school to support the family when his parents’ construction business went bankrupt in the wake of the Great Recession. 

“My family, for a good minute when I was growing up, had to really struggle in terms of how we would pay for everything,” he said. “They were drowning in credit card debt but tried to put on an image of perfection.” 

Gonzales was born and raised in Gillsville, but his parents immigrated from Mexico and often return for family trips. Before migrating to the U.S., his father had only a third-grade education, and his mother didn’t make it past eighth grade. 

They worked hard to provide for Gonzales and his siblings, and that is why he refuses to squander the opportunities afforded by their sacrifices and their insistence on getting a good education. He’s taken so many dual enrollment courses that he will be a sophomore by the time he gets to college.

“It lit a fire within me,” he said of watching his parents and older brothers struggle. “I felt it would be in a way almost like a slap in the face to them to not access what they had worked so hard to provide for me and my younger siblings.”