Off Beat: Justice tells WSUV grads how his college career commenced

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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During graduation season, commencement speakers often deliver go-get-'em addresses intended to propel the grads into the next stage of their lives.

Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez filled that role nicely during his 2012 commencement address for Washington State University Vancouver.

"Believe in the promise of the American dream," urged Gonzalez, who is only the second justice of Hispanic heritage to serve on the state Supreme Court.

Gonzalez added a nice personal note when he related some of the twists and turns down his own path to Pitzer College, in Claremont, Calif.

Nobody in his family had ever gone to college, and his high school counselor was no help. So Gonzalez literally found his own path.

"I lived in a college town," he said, so Gonzalez headed for the part of Claremont where several campuses are clustered. He walked into the administration building of the first college he came to.

"I asked for an application," Gonzalez said.

The person behind the counter seemed a little surprised, and responded: "Is this for you?"

When Gonzalez was in high school, he worked as a janitor, cleaning bathrooms at public parks. So, Gonzalez acknowledged, he had a chip on his shoulder.

Then the administrator said something along the lines of: "You do know that Scripps is a women's college?"

When he heard that, Gonzalez told the amphitheater audience, "I really wanted to go there!"

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.