A Lesson on Perseverance: My Life Story

Author: Dr. Gilbert Trevino, Superintendent, Floydada Collegiate ISD

About ten years ago this March, the FISD board took a chance on a young administrator with zero years of superintendent experience and I appreciated the confidence the board had in me to take on this great responsibility of leading such an amazing district.  To be honest, after the first few weeks on the job, I thought to myself, “What in the world did I get into?”  But, after the first year, I got more comfortable and looked forward to learning and growing in this position.  Ten years later, I still learn something new every day.  I think superintendents, and educators in general, become complacent when they stop learning, stop growing, and stop pushing for excellence.  So, I try to stay humble and look for ways to take our district to greater levels of success.

There’s a saying that says educators should never forget what it’s like to be a student.  Since I entered this profession, I’ve tried to teach and lead with this saying in mind.  I think this is especially important with today’s kids.  The truth is, I grew up like a lot of the kids in our school district.  While I didn’t know it at the time, I grew up in poverty.  My parents always made sure we had food to eat and clothes on our back, but we didn’t have name brand clothes, name brand shoes, etc.  I remember my mom taking my brother and me to McDonald’s on special occasions but telling us that she had enough money for a burger but not for fries.  So many of our students in our district experience similar circumstances.  In today’s world, poverty is crippling.  With this in mind, it’s important for our educators to understand this and to build relationships with students to make them realize that an education is the way out of poverty.  That was my way out.

I had great educators that really pushed me, held me accountable, and wouldn’t let me fail. They made me strive for greatness, helped me set goals, and taught me life lessons.  Sherry Crigger was my Freshman and Senior English teacher.  She was a great teacher who was strict, expected excellence in all my work, and taught me that you can always do better. Junior Ashmore was my basketball coach and was a father figure to me during a time that I needed someone to serve in that positive role.  While he taught me all I know about basketball, he taught me even more about life. From day one, he talked about the “3 Ps”:  Patience, Pride, and Poise.  Patience to wait on good things to happen when it’s the right time (to not settle), pride in who you are and what you do, and having the poise to keep a positive mindset in adverse situations.  I’ve relied on the “3 Ps” to carry me through various phases of my life.  Zelda Ford, a substitute teacher who in my freshman year taught this smart-mouthed, stubborn teenager that you have to treat others the way you want to be treated.  I had many more wonderful educators (and some bad), but these three taught me so much. Without them, I would have had a hard time being who I am today and would have had a difficult time getting to where I am today, for reasons I’ll share with you in a bit.

I also give a lot of credit to my maternal grandfather, Florencio Gomez, for all the education I’ve had the opportunity to achieve.  He was a man who could barely speak English, never had any formal schooling, and who worked as a farm hand late into his 70s.  He would lecture me at a young age about the importance of an education, of going to college, and getting a good job.  He used to tell me, “Hijo.  Necesitas ir al colegio.  No necesitas trabajar tan duro como trabajo yo.”  Translated, “Son, you need to go to college.  You don’t need to work as hard as I do.”  He used to lecture me EVERY TIME I went to his house.  It got to the point during my teenage years that I dreaded going over there or I avoided it altogether.  I would tell my mom that I just didn’t want to hear my grandfather lecture me anymore about education.  When I finally graduated college and walked across the stage with my bachelor’s degree, I thought of those lectures and it brought tears to my eyes. In 2015, when I went through my doctoral degree graduation activities, I took him with me.  I’ll never be able to thank him enough for those words of wisdom and guidance he provided.  A man with hardly any education taught me more about the importance of an education than anyone else in my life.

I was the first born in my family, on both my mom’s side and my dad’s side.  You can probably imagine how much attention I received when I was born since I was the first grandchild and nephew.  My dad was 18 years old when I was born and my mom was 16.  From what I recall, I had a happy first six or so years of my life.  I grew up on a farm near Cotton Center until age 5 and started kindergarten in Hale Center while living there.  Each morning, I’d walk next door to my paternal grandparents’ house and I used to crawl into bed with my grandmother and cry while waiting on the bus.  I would tell her I didn’t want to go to school and she would hug me and cry with me and tell me that I had to go to school and learn. Then she’d walk me out to the bus, load me, and we’d both be gushing tears.  I entered kindergarten primarily speaking Spanish.  Who was to know that I’d go on to become an educator (an English teacher at that) and “go to school” every day!

Later in my kindergarten year, we moved to Hale Center.  My dad got a job at Excel (later named Cargill) in Plainview, so he left his farm job and we (mom, dad, and my brother) moved to a small, two-bedroom house on Avenue E in Hale Center.  My dad went on to work at Excel for 35 years until the day it shut down.  My dad was (and still is) an alcoholic.  I watched him drink from the time I can remember.  The one thing my dad always did, though, was get up and go to work every day.  That’s the one thing I learned from him: how to get up every day no matter how you feel and go to work.  But, I didn’t have the opportunity to learn many other things.  Since he was always drinking, I taught myself many things, such as how to play sports.  Anyone that knows me well knows that I absolutely love basketball.  In many ways, basketball was my first love.  My dad didn’t teach me how to shoot a basketball. I spent many hours in the driveway alone or with friends just shooting and imagining.  I taught myself other things such as how to change the oil on a car. In Junior High, after watching my best friend’s dad teach him how to tie a neck tie, I practiced until I learned how to do it myself.  I still loved my dad, though.  He always provided for us.  He was a good man who let his addiction negatively affect his life.  He and my mom divorced later in life because of his alcoholism.

From the ages of 7-9, I had another traumatic event that changed me as a kid and probably impacted me in ways that I still don’t even understand today.  After moving to Hale Center, my parents used to take us to visit my paternal grandparents.  It was during these years, that my dad’s cousin (who was being raised by my grandparents) started sexually abusing me and my brother.  I was so young that I didn’t know what was happening at first. I just knew that I didn’t like it and dreaded going over there.  He used to take us into an old house, which was vacant.  I recall one day, he grabbed my brother and started walking toward that house.  I screamed and told him, “No, leave him alone!”  So he grabbed me and took me instead.  I think back and realize it was my way of protecting my little brother.  I was scared to death to tell anyone.  For one, I was in shock.  It felt like a bad dream.  After a while, I started feeling dirty.  I felt that if I told anyone, I’d be the one to get in trouble.  In my teenage years, and after no longer having to endure the abuse, I felt ashamed.  I didn’t want anyone to know about what happened.  I just wanted to forget about it because it was so embarrassing that something like that happened to me.  I eventually got to the point as I got older where I felt angry.  Though I was angry, I did not want to hurt my mom by telling her what happened.  I wanted to protect her from knowing that a child of hers was abused.  Even at this point, after enduring this torture, I wanted to protect others.  I carried this secret for many, many years.  A few years ago, I finally decided to share this experience with others. While it’s still uncomfortable to talk and think about, I feel that it has driven me to be who I am today.  The man who did this to me was put into jail at a young age for stealing.  He’s been in the prison system for most of his life.

I tell you about my life and my experiences, not so you can give me pity, not so you can feel sympathy, not for admiration or anything else.  I tell you these things because I want you to know where I come from, what makes me who I am, and to know about the powerful influence that educators had on my life.

My life could have easily turned out very differently had I adopted the victim mentality.  Instead, I used my experiences to drive me, motivate me, and to inspire me to make a difference and not let anything or anyone defeat me.

And I also tell you all of this because so many of our students can tell similar stories.  We, as educators, have the power to positively influence these students and all students we come into contact with.  This is the type of district I envision: where educators establish relationships with students and truly work to make a difference for them, educationally and in their personal lives.  We must give kids our best and understand where they come from.  I want us to treat every child as if they are our own.  I try to model this daily.  But, I’m hard on my own kids and expect their best in all that they do.  Therefore, I will always have high expectation for our students, no matter what circumstances they face.  I want FISD to be the best it can be!  We, as educators, can support and guide our students to work toward excellence.

In closing, I’d like to share one final story.  As a teenager, I used to have a recurring nightmare.  I dreamed that the devil was knocking on my window.  I would wake up in my dream and he’d say, “Let me in. Open the window just a little bit.” I’d scream, feel so frightened, then I’d run to the bathroom and he would appear at that window saying, “Open this window.  Let me in just for a little while.”  Once again, I’d scream and run away.  One time I woke up and the dream seemed so real that I went into my parents’ bedroom and stood in front of my mom as she slept.  She happened to let out a snore and I let out a loud scream.  I scared her to death.  She hopped up and asked me what was the matter.  I told her about my dream and she said that it was only a dream and sent me back to bed.  I had this nightmare from about the time I was 8 until I turned 14.  The dream was exactly the same every time.  The last night I ever recall having the nightmare there was one thing that changed.  When the devil appeared at the restroom window, I finally told him, “No!”  I had never said “no” before.  After that night, I never had the dream again.  I often wonder what would have happened if I had opened the window or if I hadn’t said “no.”  My mom instilled a strong, Catholic faith in me growing up.  She was an amazing, supportive woman who was always there for me and taught me how to lean on God during life’s trials.  If I hadn’t been raised this way, who knows if I would have had the courage to say, “no!”

In thinking about my life, I often think of the poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken.  I’ve always felt that the ending of this poem sums up my life:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

While I’m far from perfect, I don’t know that I’d change anything that happened to me because it’s made me who I am today:  stubborn, strong-willed, a perfectionist, empathetic, passionate, prideful, and dedicated to name just a few qualities.  However, my experiences have also caused me to not open up to people and to build walls. I could have easily allowed my life to head in a different direction:  drugs, alcohol, making nothing out of my life and blaming it on what happened to me as a child.  But I wanted better!

One of my favorite scriptures is Jeremiah 29:11.  It reads, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

This is what I want for FISD and our community:  Hope and a Future!

Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you!

Comments 4

  1. Absolutely awesome! Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed visiting FISD a few weeks ago and have told everyone, “Floydada has it going on.” Now I know a little more of the history behind why your vision is so clear and playing out in a beautiful way in that little town on the Llano Estacado.

  2. Call it “perseverance,” “grit,” “resilience”: Dr. Trevino, you have it all! Inspiring story of the ability of the human soul to endure much and keep on keeping on. We had a master’s student who did her thesis looking at people who had a major negative event or events in their lives and how they “bounced back’–not only to persevere but THRIVE. In netallurgy, we might say it’s “hardening” the steel–a process of heating, beating, quenching, etc.

    You, on the other hand, did not “harden.” Rather, you thrived and used your experiences–posititve and negative–to LEAD, to SERVE, to LOVE. What an INSPIRATION to us all!

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