The love of learning came early on for Donna North High School graduating senior Dori Ann Gonzales. At the age of three, Gonzales was introduced to books which led to her passion for reading and soaking in knowledge. Now at 18, Gonzales is enjoying the fruits of her labor by being named DNHS valedictorian for the Class of 2017.

Gonzales said her upbringing was not like most students. Her father was not around much because his profession as a truck driver kept him away from home quite a bit. Still, she said she looked up to him because he always wanted the best for her. “My father is the hardest worker who I know,” Gonzales said. “Without his example, I don’t know how successful I would have been.”

In his absence, Gonzales said her mother and older siblings played a big role in raising her. “They did a lot of things for me,” Gonzales said. “I was very dependent on my family but at the same time their support made me into the student I am today. They always pushed me and wanted me to do better than they did. They taught me to work hard.”

HA2A3955Gonzales said her family likes to remind her about the time she first began to read. “I was about three when my brother-in-law bought me my first book, The Giving Tree,” Gonzales said. “My family would read it to me. When I learned the words, I would read it to them. But they noticed that before I turned the page, I was saying the words of the next page. I had memorized it. They bought me another book to see if I would learn it just as quickly. That’s when they realized I might be advanced and started pushing me to do my best.”

She said she learned a lot from her older siblings. “They would help me with all of my projects,” Gonzales said. “They would rush to the store if I needed anything and would come back and help me. They also helped me be more mature than other students because they were older. We would watch older movies, listen to older music and use a lot more vocabulary words. I think that helped me be at a level ahead of everybody else because I was exposed to that right away.”

Her family was convinced she would go far academically. “They would say ‘you’re going to be at the top and you’re going to keep going,’ ” Gonzales said. “Once they noticed that I was making good grades in middle school they would say ‘if you’re valedictorian you can go where ever you want to go.’ They were always telling me that. Even my friends who I’ve known since we were little kids would say that they knew back then that I was going to be number one.”

But the competition was tough especially this past year. Gonzales’ found out that her grades were nearly identical as her dear friend Kristi Mariana Villanueva. “I was attending South Texas College as a dual enrollment student,” Gonzales said. I spent a lot of my time at STC working on getting my associate degree which caused my grades at Donna North to suffer. I was worried that my friend was going to pass me. But there was nobody else I’d rather have lost to than her.”

Gonzales persevered and became valedictorian while her friend was named salutatorian. She now plans to attend The University of Texas at Austin to pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer science and master’s degree in business administration. “When I was little I would love using the computer,” Gonzales said. “I didn’t like to play with Barbies and things like that. I just wanted to be on the computer playing games with my brother. I would also help my siblings when they had a problem with their computer and they couldn’t get it to work. It just came natural.”

Her goal is to attain a career in software development or information security and someday make enough money to help her family financially in exchange for helping her toward her path to success.