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UCLA Magazine Spring 2005
From Murphy Hall
Living La Vida 'Lorca'
Stress Fractures
What's at Stake
The Importance of Being Elma
House of Cards
The Quest
Through Women's Eyes
Dynamic Duo
Bruin Walk

University Communications

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Spring 2005
The Importance of Being Elma

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One alternative to her harsh life might have been to drop out of school and, with some luck, land a low-paying job at a local store. But González considered such work not only dull but a dangerous trap. “I did not want to fall into the pattern of marrying and working in a store all my life,” she says. “One’s leitmotif in life should be courage.”

Her father thought she wouldn’t make it past high school — he had himself stopped attending school at the age of 7. But González persevered, even though she knew that her parents couldn’t afford to send her to college and that there were no state scholarships or aid at that time to help her get a college education.

Oddly, even the counselors at her high school refrained from urging students to go to college, fearing that their expectations might not be met. “They believed that inspiring us to go for higher education would lead to trouble,” says González. Undeterred, she approached her high school principal, a straight-talking New Yorker. “People like you need to go to college,” he told her. “If you don’t, you become bitter old women.”

It wasn’t long before González applied to Texas Woman’s University, although she was far from sure if she would be accepted without aid or a scholarship. During the course of a long correspondence with the university, González learned about the National Defense Student Loan, a federal program for undergraduates started by the U.S. Congress at the onset of the Cold War to build the nation’s scientific talent.

González got the loan and was admitted into Texas Woman’s University, becoming the first member of her family to go to college. (Both her sisters followed and earned master’s degrees.) The loan covered 90 percent to 95 percent of the cost of her education, and González paid for the rest by watering plants in the university greenhouse, a job that paid 55 cents an hour. Her mother made all her clothes, “so that was a big help,” she recalls. “And she would send some cash for incidentals — $5 or so — every once in a while.”

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