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Braden River High senior's key to graduating: Keep moving forward

Jeremiah Gonzalez overcomes mental health challenges and focuses on focuses on positivity to get to graduation.

Jeremiah Gonzalez, a senior at Braden River High School, went from a shy, quiet freshman in Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps to serving as the program's battalion commander this year.
Jeremiah Gonzalez, a senior at Braden River High School, went from a shy, quiet freshman in Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps to serving as the program's battalion commander this year.
Photo by Liz Ramos
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Every so often, Jeremiah Gonzalez, a Braden River High School senior, reminds himself to stop and take a moment. 

Even just for a minute, he takes in life and the beauty around him. 

Whether it’s spending time with friends or family, competing in a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps competition or planning his future, Gonzalez thinks of the famous Ferris Bueller quote, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Throughout middle school and high school, Gonzalez struggled with his mental health, dealing with bouts of depression. It is quotes like Bueller’s and conversations with teachers, friends and family who inspire him that remind him to keep pushing forward. 

A moment Gonzalez will be sure to revel in is when he walks across the baseball field at LECOM Park to accept his diploma May 14. 

Receiving his diploma will make him the second in his family to graduate high school, following in the footsteps of his brother Jaylen Gonzalez, who graduated in 2012. 

Jeremiah Gonzalez, a Braden River High School senior, is grateful for the lifelong friendships he's made with people like senior Giovanni Sarnuto.
Courtesy image

“I told myself I was going to be the next,” Gonzalez said. “I want to show people that my parents raised a good kid.”

Getting to graduation wasn’t easy for Gonzalez. 

Gonzalez moved from New Jersey to Florida when he was 6 years old. The transition to Florida life was difficult. He made friends at school, but he missed his family. He missed having snowball fights and building igloos with his brothers, Joshua Gonzalez and Jaylen Gonzalez. He missed his grandparents. His grandfather is his best friend and taught him how to play piano and guitar. He still sends his grandfather videos of him playing. 

In middle school, Gonzalez said he experienced social anxiety and a “slow crawl into depression.” 

It wasn’t until he was in high school that his mental health started to improve as he developed lifelong friendships in JROTC, and as a high school senior, began to figure out who he is and what he wants for his life. 

Gonzalez looked to retired Sgt. Maj. Alex Figueroa, who retired as the JROTC instructor at the end of the 2022-2023 school year, for inspiration and guidance. He said he wanted to be Figueroa, who he described as charismatic, funny and smart. 

“He helped me through the tough times and the good times,” Gonzalez said of Figueroa. “He showed me I can be more than just a shy, quiet kid. He showed me I have the aspirations to be a leader.”

Senior Giovanni Sarnuto and Sgt. Maj. Alex Figuero are two people senior Jeremiah Gonzalez confides in when he needs someone.
Courtesy image

JROTC provided discipline and encouragement. He went from being a shy freshman to a confident leader, serving as the battalion commander his senior year. 

“These kids are my family,” Gonzalez said. “Everything I’ve been through, they’ve been through with me. I’ve led them in a way that I’ve gained their respect. I’ve never had to demand respect from them. I respect these kids as much as they respect me.”

Gonzalez’s mindset changed as he realized he can always push himself to do better and be a better person. 

“I finally realized that nothing is going to change unless I make a change,” he said. 

Gonzalez has known he wanted to serve in the military since he was a child. He has always loved military movies and documentaries on the military. He thought it was fascinating and could picture himself doing the things he saw in the movies. 

When he was having issues with his asthma pump while trying to go through military processing to enlist in the National Guard, Gonzalez was worried his dream was slipping away from him.

His mental health took a hit, questioning what his future had in store for him if the military wasn’t an option. 

When he learned he successfully enlisted, it was a weight off his shoulders, Gonzalez said. His future is set. 

After discovering his passion for engineering in an engineering class, Gonzalez decided he wanted to become a computer engineer. He also wants to be a motorcycle mechanic. 

Gonzalez plans to serve six of his eight years in the National Guard in active duty. He plans to attend Hillsborough Community College and then the University of South Florida to earn a masters degree in either mechanical or aerospace engineering. After his stint in the National Guard, Gonzalez will enlist in the Army with hopes of serving at least 20 years. 



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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