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Chico State

The Family That Graduates Together

Siblings Nick, Kayla, and AJ Gonzales wear their Chico State stoles as they stand in front of the boiler-chiller towers that say "Chico State."
Photos by Jamie C Photography

Siblings AJ, Kayla, and Nick Gonzales are first-generation college graduates, whose parents truly championed them toward the completion of their degree. (Jamie C Photography)

When the Gonzales family attended Commencement this weekend, it was a shared victory.

Lisa and Tony Gonzales always dreamed their children would graduate from college and become the first in their family to hold a University degree. But they never imagined all three siblings would do so at once.

“For our mom and dad both to see us all three graduating—that’s what they wanted, and slowly but surely, we did it,” said Kayla Gonzales. “They pushed us to go to school because they didn’t. And we all three just wanted to make our parents proud.”

Kayla, the middle child at age 26, joined her older brother AJ, 29, and younger brother Nick, 23, in celebrating the completion of their undergraduate degrees last weekend. With three different majors and three separate ceremonies, the Gonzaleses certainly have individual accomplishments to celebrate but they agree it feels like a collective journey.

“It really all sunk in when we were taking our pictures together, with our caps on and our different color tassels,” AJ said. “It really felt more like a group victory than anything I have done on my own.”

AJ, Nick, and Kayla Gonzales post in their gowns and wearing their Chico State stoles in front of the California State University, Chico monument sign on the Kendall Lawn.
AJ, Nick, and Kayla Gonzales plan to have a shared graduation celebration with friends and family in early June.

The siblings were raised about 20 miles west of Chico in Orland and are the third generation of their family to graduate from Hamilton City High. Their parents always made it clear that they wanted their children to take the next step and graduate from college.

So, after high school, each one enrolled in college classes whether they knew their passion or not, while also working full-time at Round Table Pizza locations in Orland and Chico to support themselves financially.

“I was really just going to school to say I was going. I wasn’t really sure what path I wanted to take,” AJ said. “I just felt like college was the route but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it, so I was really just wasting some time.”

He ended up taking a year off and reconsidered his major, realizing he enjoyed time as a teaching assistant for the director of technology in high school and working in IT at Round Table. As a computer information systems major, he returned to school and started all over.

“Getting to that end goal is really satisfying for me,” AJ said. “It’s hard but anyone can do it, as long as you are willing to put in the work and as long as you have a goal.”

Kayla agrees.

“We are all different ages, we all move at different speeds,” she said “It’s very rewarding to put yourself through college. Not all students can say they worked full-time, went to school full-time, and enjoyed their classes.”

Kayla attended Butte College straight after high school but also struggled to find her way. She took a few years off, where, working as a manager of Round Table, she realized her passion. She finished her general education requirements at Butte College and then enrolled at Chico State as a recreation, hospitality, and parks management major.

“I really liked the customer service aspect and building relationships, and that’s what really spoke to me about the hospitality industry,” she said. “I love working with people.”

Nick followed perhaps the most traditional path, with a few small detours, before finishing his degree in five years.

He first enrolled as a civil engineering major, but then decided construction management would better suit him. As he rose through the ranks at Round Table—he’s now an assistant manager—he realized how much he enjoyed being a leader and helping train people. He switched his major to business administration with an option in management, and soon will start a job as a court clerk with Butte County Superior Court.

AJ too will launch into a career, doing IT consulting for Precision Business Associates in Chico. Kayla is moving to Houston to reunite with her fiancée and eagerly awaiting two job interviews—one with Enterprise Car Rentals and another with the Houston Texans. The biggest challenge, she said, will be leaving her family behind, even though they will remain just a phone call away.

Siblings Nick, Kayla, and AJ Gonzales wear their Chico State stoles as they stand in front of Kendall Hall's "Today Transforms Tomorrow" lettering.
Nick, left, and AJ, right, both have secured jobs while Kayla has two promising job interviews lined up. They’re all looking forward to what their next chapters will bring.

Each was so busy working full-time while taking classes, the siblings seldom had a chance to spend time together. But in the fall 2018 semester, their schedules wonderfully aligned so that they shared a break between classes. They would often get lunch, study together in the BMU, or simply hang out and chat.

Nick and AJ also took the same financing course, where they sat together and sometimes studied together. It was really neat, Nick said, especially considering their age gap meant they had never previously attended the same schools.

“It was nice to be in class together and learn together,” he said, noting all three siblings regularly encouraged one another through midterms and finals, as well as with this last push to walk across the Commencement stage this spring.

AJ said his siblings continue to inspire him.

“I know they look up to me to some degree but I look up to them, too,” he said. “I admire Nick’s work ethic for how young he is and how he stayed focus this whole time. Kayla has been managing Round Table and going to school all these years, and that’s no easy task. I saw their dedication, they just never gave up.”

And luckily, neither did he.