Fresno State senior Gabby Gaona has a fancy-typed message for the high school counselor who she claims discouraged her from applying to the university.
“Come celebrate Gabriella’s graduation,” the formal invitation reads.
More than five years since meeting with a counselor at Roosevelt High to discuss her options after high school, Gaona is set to graduate from Fresno State with a degree in public relations.
And Gaona said she plans to invite that high school counselor so she has the opportunity to see in person what the 22-year-old is about to accomplish.
“It’s funny how certain things stick with us,” Gaona said. “I remember she told me I wouldn’t get in (to Fresno State), and that I should just go to (Fresno) City and work at the mall. That’s as far as I’m going to get in life.”
Gaona didn’t want to identify the counselor’s name but said that “she knows who she is.”
Gaona posted on social media that she planned to invite her high school counselor to her graduation.
Her Twitter message, posted a month ago, received more than 8,000 likes and was re-tweeted almost 600 times, with many finding her tweet relatable to their own experiences.
“It just makes graduating all the more rewarding,” Gaona said. “I did it and proved her wrong.
“But it also makes me sad because I have a lot of friends from high school who didn’t do much after graduation. And I wonder if they felt discouraged about college.”
Gaona said because of her counselor’s advice, she initially did not apply to Fresno State.
But a different counselor, Roosevelt’s head counselor at the time, ended up convincing and helping Gaona to apply for admission to Fresno State. He even helped her fill out financial aid applications.
A cheerleader in high school who was involved in other extracurricular activities, Gaona said she made decent grades at Roosevelt but was mostly worried she wouldn’t get into Fresno State because she applied late in the school year.
But when Gaona found out that she was accepted to the school in the summer, she promised herself that she would graduate.
“That counselor who didn’t believe in me, she motivated me,” Gaona said. “But I’m graduating because I believed in myself, and I stayed motivated knowing others believed in me, too.”
Still, it wasn’t easy.
Gaona changed her major five times.
First, it was kinesiology. Then liberal studies, then history, then dance before sticking with public relations.
Upon starting classes at Fresno State, Gaona also discovered she had an anxiety disorder.
“I still don’t know what caused it,” Gaona said. “Maybe it was being around new people and in a different environment.”
Gaona said she had a 0.0 grade-point average after her first semester, and the anxiety issues caused her to disenroll from Fresno State by the second semester.
So Gaona spent that spring semester working as a nanny.
Meanwhile, Gaona’s best friend remained at Fresno State.
When Gaona would see photos of her bestie having fun in college, she knew she needed to return to school.
She needed to get back to Fresno State.
“Being a nanny can be fun,” Gaona said. “But I wanted to do something more with my life.
“I’m young. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to set up myself for a better future.”
Upon her return to Fresno State, Gaona joined a sorority.
She credits the Greek life for helping her get on the right path to graduating.
As a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, Gaona said she found a group of friends, which relieved some of her anxiety.
She also found comfort being around others who were motivated to make good grades.
She even learned that some of her sorority sisters experienced anxiety while going to school, too.
“My (sorority) house provided the focus and support that I needed to survive school,” Gaona said. “I learned that it’s OK to have anxiety. Others have them, too.
“And I enjoyed my sorority so much, I made sure to keep my grades up to stay in it.”
Gaona said she has around a 3.0 GPA.
She already was the first in her family ever to attend college.
Now, she’ll be the first in her family to earn a college degree and graduate.
“I’m so excited to be done,” Gaona said. “I feel like I struggled and crawled through college.
“But I did it. I’m finally finished.”
Does Gaona think her high school counselor will attend Fresno State’s graduation?
“I have no clue,’ Gaona said. “I just know it’ll feel good to send the invitation.”