Happy Wednesday, everyone!
I hope you’re having a splendid week! Luckily, my day has been one of rest and retail therapy, so I definitely can’t complain. Still, as things are gearing up for Miss Tennessee, it’s always good to have reminders of others who have pursued their goals despite challenges, which is why I always look forward to these weekly posts. I was incredibly honored to sit down with today’s guest—an inspiring leader who to date is the highest-ranking Hispanic American to have served in executive government. Without further ado, this week’s guest, Judge Alberto R. Gonzales!
Judge Alberto R. Gonzales grew up in Houston, Texas. His family was large and relatively poor, so after graduating, he enlisted in the Air Force. His first assignment was at Fort Yukon, Alaska. During his time there, he met two Air Force Academy graduates who took an interest in him and encouraged him to apply to the Air Force Academy. He was accepted, studied there for two years, and then transferred to Rice University in Houston. He then went on to attend law school at Harvard University. After graduating, Judge Gonzales spent thirteen years working for a large law firm in Texas. In 1994, George W. Bush was elected governor and asked him to serve as his chief legal counsel, which he did for three years. He then served the state of Texas as the Secretary of State and later on as a justice of the Texas Supreme Court. When President Bush took office in 2001, he asked Judge Gonzales to join him as White House Counsel. He was appointed as Attorney General of the United States in 2005, and served in that position for almost three years. After an extensive career in government service, Judge Gonzales taught at Texas Tech University and came to Nashville five years ago. He’s currently the Dean of Belmont University’s College of Law. Although he remains a proud Texan, he loves being in Nashville and is definitely a welcome addition to our city.
Who’s someone you admire and why?
I admire my parents and my wife—they’re a large reason for my success, especially the values that have fueled my success. But President Bush also gave me several once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that changed the trajectory of my life. I learned from him how to be a father, husband, political leader, a decision-maker…I think a lot of my values come from just watching and spending time with him.
Tell me about a challenge you faced at some point in your life. What lessons were you able to take from that situation?
When I was a small boy, I was in Cub Scouts, and we were given an assignment to carve a little canoe. Most of the scouts in my pack took these little twigs to complete the assignment, but I got this large branch and started carving! I soon realized I wasn’t going to make it. I went to my dad, who was a great carpenter, and said “Dad, I need help.” He started working with me, carving it out, and I remember asking him, “Are we going to be able to do this?” And he said, “Well, we have to make it. It’s gotta work.” And that’s a simple little lesson, but throughout my life, whenever I’ve been presented with difficult challenges, and people have asked me “How will this work out? How are we going to do this?” I always think back to that moment with my dad and say, “Well, it’s got to work out. We’ve got a job to do, to protect America, and so we’ve got to do it.”
What’s a moment you’ve had where you knew that what you were doing was making a difference?
Whenever I see our students graduate here at Belmont, I’m very grateful for the opportunity to (hopefully!) impact their lives. When I talk to them about my experiences and the things I’ve learned, I like to think that we’re developing the next generation of leaders for this community, this state, and maybe even this country—who knows? I definitely think that’s making a difference.
What’s your advice for someone who wants to make an impact in their community?
First of all, step into the area of public service, in some form or another. I tell our graduates: “you have a lifetime to make money. Find something that gives you joy and where you’re making an impact in the community.” I mean, that’s what life is all about, otherwise, you get as old as me, and you think “what’s it all been for?”
If you’re interested in the political aspect of public service, take a side. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything that one party is saying, but people should know where you stand. And then when opportunities come along to volunteer or to intern or to run for office, people will think about you because they know who you are and where you stand. And so being involved, even at a junior level, is very important. But outside of politics, there are so many nonprofits that need talent. They need people who are willing to work hard. There is even a greater need for being a loving and attentive parent—that’s one of the most important contributions you can make.
What’s something that you’re specifically proud of about Nashville? About our nation as a whole?
I went to a diversity summit a few weeks ago which talked about the state of inclusion here in Nashville. I think Nashville is in a pretty good place when compared to other large cities across the nation. You don’t see situations like Ferguson or Baltimore or Staten Island here. I think Nashville should be proud of this and continue on working on inclusion. In terms of America, we are a nation of immigrants, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of assimilating immigrant communities. Do we have our challenges? Absolutely, and that’s going to continue and require additional leadership.
As former Attorney General of the United States, what’s one of the biggest challenges that we are facing as a country right now?
I think the greatest threat to our country is our national security. We live in a very dangerous world—much more so than when I was in the White House, and I worry about it. I worry that we’re not leading the world, even though we are the greatest nation on earth. I’ve visited 30 countries and I still believe that we should lead the way. Now, I don’t think that we need to be sending our military to every country, but we need to be concerned with shaping outcomes. I promise you that other countries like China and Russia are shaping outcomes that favor them, and I really think that we need to do the same in a way that is not arrogant.
Despite his enormous success, Judge Gonzales remains an incredibly grounded person with a story that really struck me. I’m especially inspired by his dad’s advice—in tough situations, remember to take a breath and remind yourself that there’s got to be a way through. I’m wishing the best of luck to Judge Gonzales as he continues to impact lives here in Nashville and wishing each one of you an inspired and empowered week!