Gene Gonzalez can pinpoint the moment when he fully understood he was meant for something greater — to discover his true purpose.

It was 2001, his last year in service with the U.S. Marine Corps after a more than 22-year career, when the Desert Storm veteran was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. It is a rarely curable cancer, affecting fewer than 200,000 people a year. In the face of fear, Gonzalez looked to the future.

“This completely changed my outlook on life,” Gonzalez said. “After retiring from the Marine Corps, I wanted to pursue and complete my education, to become something bigger than myself. I came to Regis to fulfill my dreams.”

Gonzalez, who graduates this month with a bachelor of science degree in business management, chose Regis because of what this University stands for, the morals and values it instills in its students and community at large.

“In many ways, the Jesuit values reflect those instilled in the Marine Corps,” said Gonzalez. “My experience here has strengthened my core values and allowed them to thrive in ways that have expanded my understanding of not only myself, but my fellow men and women.”

Gonzalez, who suffered a traumatic brain injury during his service, found his own unique challenges on the journey toward his bachelor’s degree. His condition combined with his chemotherapy treatments made it difficult to retain information. Again undeterred, he invested extra time in the library and used tutors to persevere and find academic success.   

In addition to being a full-time student, Gonzalez works in the Northwest Denver Campus Veteran Resource Center, helping other veterans like himself discover and fulfill their own dreams. His heart and dedication is apparent in everything he does, from his interactions with other students, faculty and staff members to his course work. 

“Gene is a recent addition to our team but he’s been helping fellow veterans for years,” said John Sweet, Military and Veterans Services Director. “He exemplifies what it means to be a lifelong learner and to live by the Ignatian values. We are very fortunate to have him here.”

With his cancer in remission, Gonzalez, who will start a master’s degree in organizational leadership at Regis this spring, ultimately wants to use his education and experiences to help both veterans and civilians in his community, to give back and pay it forward.   

“I want to show my family, my wife and two sons, that you can do anything you set your mind to, that you can make a difference in this world,” said Gonzalez. “Regis helped me realize that, and I will forever be grateful.”

Learn more about all of the resources available to Regis’ student vets here