Will an In-Progress Education Affect Your Career Search?

When Lightning Strikes: Tragedy Doesn’t Have to Hinder Academic Goals

They say lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice. Yet, for nineteen-year-old Gil Chavez, it sure felt like it. He experienced major tragedy on two separate occasions before even finishing high school. Yet somehow after all that’s happened to him, his vision remains clear—he wants to attend Harvard Law someday. How do people hit so hard find the motivation to continue to pursue their academic goals?

In high school, Gil was one of those “star students.” He had a 4.0 GPA, was president of his student council, and captain of his wrestling team. Everything was going well…until he hit his head during a wrestling match sophomore year. The next day he couldn’t focus and his vision was blurry. The diagnosis was grave: traumatic brain injury, a major impairment not fully understood by doctors.

Gil described the next year of his life as a “state of delirium.” He didn’t recognize his little sister, and he tried to walk out of a second story window. In terms of what happened to his grades, he visibly tensed. “I lost all my accomplishments,” he said. In his attempts to return to school, his symptoms resurfaced unpredictably and caused him to fail classes.

Finally, at the age of 17, the fog began to clear. Gil returned to high school, determined to make up for lost time. He kept his passion for wrestling alive by joining his dad and grandpa in coaching the team. But then the second tragedy hit.

Gil and his grandpa were crossing the street to get on the bus for a wrestling match, and an SUV ran a stop sign, killing his grandpa and injuring Gil.

Immersed in trauma, it was seven months before Gil felt he could face the demands of his education again. But when he re-entered the doors of his high school, he did so with fervor, loading up on credits to prepare him for college. Against all odds, Gil graduated high school at the age of 19 with a 3.0 GPA. “My grandpa, a retired teacher, was my inspiration,” he said. “He would’ve wanted this for me.”

Gil felt optimistic about meeting his college goals. He applied to a state university and set up a meeting with officials to explain his case. He knew his GPA was low, but hoped for at least a chance on a trial basis.

You might say lightning struck a third time, because the university rejected him, saying his GPA was just too low. He was completely devastated. Yet with the support of his family, he found the courage to pull himself up one more time, enrolling in a local community college.

In his first semester, he feels incredibly supported by his professors, and he beams when he reports that he has A’s in all of his classes. He plans to check off a few more courses and then apply to universities again. The look in his eyes is pure determination. I mean, how else is he going to get to Harvard Law?

Hear more about people overcoming adversity—people like Judy, who was diagnosed with breast cancer while earning her Ph.D., and Emily, who endured a trying pregnancy while earning her master’s degree.

What trials have you faced when trying to pursue your academic goals?

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