ESS 2021: Student overcomes her self-doubt issues and devastating COVID loss
August 9, 2021
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Natalie Gonzalez Grade: 12 School: Bell High School District: Los Angeles Unified School District ACSA region: 16 Natalie Gonzalez is in the top 10 percent of her class, serves as a leader in several clubs and took all AP courses available to her at her school’s STEM Magnet program. But beneath the surface, she faced inner struggles that could have derailed her.
Since an early age, Natalie has struggled with shyness and self-doubt. Determined to make a change, Natalie joined the tennis team in high school. Through every practice, every loss, and every win, Natalie’s confidence grew both on and off the court.
This new resolve was tested last year with COVID-19. Not only did Natalie have to adapt to learning remotely, she also had to overcome the loss of her beloved grandfather who succumbed to the virus. Instead of allowing herself to grieve, Natalie shut her emotions off and distracted herself by overperforming in school. It took her several months to come to terms with his loss, but Natalie can now see how her struggles have taught her to be resilient, confident and persistent.
You have admitted to being a shy kid. But when you got into high school, you became really involved. What changed? I think at the end of eighth grade, we had all these yearbooks to sign and I realized I didn’t have that many signatures. They were mainly my teachers. So I said, “OK. I really need to put myself out there.” And I did. When I joined high school, I made sure to join AP classes because I wanted to be friends with the determined people. And I also put myself through tennis because I wanted to join a sport. I wanted to be a student athlete. And yet, it was really awkward at first. I couldn’t run to the ball. I couldn’t carry my books as much because they were so heavy. But eventually, I got the gist of it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on your entire family. How did the experience affect you? It’s sad to say but COVID did impact my family in a huge way. It took my grandfather. And it hurt my dad and my uncles. And even my grandma, too. At first, we thought it was just a little virus that wouldn’t get to us. We were always secure. We would always wear a mask. ... And I went to work in a hospital around my birthday. It was Father’s Day around June 20. And we invited my family over. I was in my room all day because I felt sick. I felt nauseous. But I came out briefly to say hi. And that brief moment changed everything. A week later, my grandfather and uncle were hospitalized. And maybe two weeks after that, my dad started getting the symptoms. And my grandfather passed away. My uncle did not. He’s still with us thankfully. But it really hurt to see my grandfather go because he was like my second father. My dad was always working late and my grandfather would pick us up from school. And watching him go meant we had to find a new system in our life. And it was different because he was always the one to provide for us and always the one to encourage us and make us laugh. And so when he left, it kind of left, too.
What advice would you give to students who have faced similar challenges? I would advise those who are feeling shy and out of place like an outcast to kind of push yourself to do something you think you wouldn’t like. And then for students who have recently lost a loved one, I would suggest they find closure in any little thing. Whether it be closure through a family member. Closure through a TV show. Personally, my sense of closure was watching SpongeBob with my grandma after school because we were united. We were always laughing. And it brought back that sense of family and familiarity.
R16 Every Student Succeeding Natalie Gonzales.
ACSA Region 16 2021 ESS winner Natalie Gonzalez.
ACSA Region 16 2021 ESS winner Natalie Gonzalez.
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