RCBC Valedictorian Breaks Barriers, Aims to Inspire Future Generations

**FRONT RUNNER LA PRENSA: LATINO LEADERSHIP AND CULTURE**

AC JosepH Media/RCBC

MOUNT LAUREL — When Nicole Ceballos Gonzalez enrolled at Rowan College at Burlington County in January 2017, she knew very little English.

A Panamanian transplant, Ceballos Gonzalez spoke fluent Spanish and communicated primarily through music during her first semester. Because she was in the beginning stages of learning a new language, she felt self-conscious in class and did not participate often. 

“Now, I participate all the time,” Ceballos Gonzalez said. “Being in an environment at RCBC, where I felt comfortable, helped me grow more confident in my language skills. This confidence helped me outside of school, as well as in my life and my community.”

Ceballos Gonzalez, a first-generation college student, came to America just four years ago and settled in Mount Laurel to work as an au pair. Through her host family, she learned of RCBC, and soon after enrolling, she took off in her studies, and her increased confidence trickled into all areas of her life.

She earned a spot on the Dean’s List after her first semester and received the RCBC Education Award, the RCBC International Students Award, the RCBC Music Award and the Promise and Possibilities Foundation’s “I am a Promise Award.”

She joined the worship team at her church (Marlton Assembly of God) and became a Sunday school teacher. She also started serving people in need throughout the Camden community.

“Now I have enough confidence to help and serve others with my skills, which is what I love to do,” Ceballos Gonzalez said. “Moreover, being the first one to go to college from my family is a great personal accomplishment for me. I started a new trend, opening doors for a better future, not just for myself but for my family and everyone I meet.”

Ceballos Gonzalez has immersed herself in RCBC extracurriculars, such as the jazz ensemble, the concert band and the string ensemble. As a member of the education club, she had the opportunity to participate in Read Across America at the Benjamin Banneker Preparatory Charter School in Willingboro. Because she is bilingual, she read to the students in Spanish. 

“It was my first experience in a classroom as a future educator, and I was able to share with the students about American culture and relate with students from minority groups,” Ceballos Gonzalez said. “I also participated in the celebration of Black History Month in 2019. One night, the gospel choir performed at RCBC, and I had the opportunity to talk about the origins of blues music in Black American culture. Then, I performed blues music on the piano.”

As an immigrant, a student of color and as a student coming from a low-income neighborhood, Ceballos Gonzalez said she wants to use her experiences and education to help younger generations achieve their goals. 

“I want to give back,” Ceballos Gonzalez said. “To all those children who perhaps think they cannot do it, for those children who live in places where education is unattainable, for those children in my community that go to school without breakfast, those children that have to walk more than two hours to get to the nearest school and children who are denied opportunities just because they look different. This is why I chose to be an educator. I want to be an instrument to help others achieve their goals. I want to show them that there are endless possibilities.”

Ceballos Gonzalez firmly believes that music not only helps students express themselves, but also helps them improve academically. That’s why she chose to study music and inclusive education at RCBC.

“I want to create an environment where my students of all backgrounds, regardless of their abilities, can feel safe, respected and actively included in my classroom,” Ceballos Gonzalez said. “I believe music can touch a student in a way no other teaching strategy can, and it is my educational goal to use music to create an environment to meet the needs of all my students.”

As for her future plans, Nicole is transferring to Rowan University this fall to pursue a degree in inclusive education. She hopes to become a special education teacher or work with students from different minority groups.

She also plans to pursue a graduate degree in speech pathology.  

“Do not be afraid to try, do not be afraid to fail, do not be afraid of what others will think of you,” Ceballos Gonzalez said. “Because the more you try at whatever you do, the better you will be. Our world – now more than ever – needs people who will keep trying no matter what.”

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