Senior Column: Entertainment editor shares ‘miracle’ journey, thanks loved ones



In a collage of photos featuring their family and friends, a picture of senior Rusty Joe Gonzales sits look at text “Farewell.” Gonzales will attend Texas Tech University in the fall studying Agricultural Communications. “During these four years, you may slowly grow up a little and realize a lot of things about life, and some times to learn you have to make mistakes,” Gonzales said. “You have to fall, adjust your methods, and get back up again. You may have no reason to, but trust me, I’m talking from experience here.”

The fact that I am even sitting here typing up my final words to this school and community is a miracle, or at least that’s what I have been told for almost my entire life.

When I was brought home from the hospital as a baby, and all the regular newborn doctors appointments started, I was diagnosed with several different conditions. Of course they all have different very fancy and long names, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll just say that I have low vision, which means I can struggle seeing certain things, and that I have another condition that makes it hard for me to run super far or fast or to jump ‘properly’ along with standing for long periods of time. These conditions resulted in a multitude of “experts” telling my parents that I may never do a lot of things including walk, talk, or even see – and as you may be able to tell, they were proven wrong.

My Journey to ENO

I’ve been in Prosper all 18 years of my life, which is rare to see nowadays. This also means that I have been a student of Prosper ISD schools for 16 of those years. On paper, and when being honored for different things throughout this year, I have been labeled a “K-12” student, but the reality is I’m more of a “three years of early childhood special education (ECSE) through 12” student. I was held back two times during ECSE, or what was formally called, and what my family and I still call, PPCD (Preschool Programs for Children with Disabilities), which is basically a preschool program for children ages 3 through 5, who have disabilities of any sort. I attended this program at Judy Rucker Elementary, one of the first elementary schools in the district.

In elementary school, at least according to what everyone says, I was decently popular, outgoing, and never met a stranger. I can’t recall a lot of this time in my life, aside from it being when I had a good majority of my surgeries.

While it may take you awhile and some trial and error, try to find “your people.” Those few, or many, friends in an elective, club, or even outside of school that you can trust with your life. They will become your safe place, your home, somewhere and someone to go to when you have nowhere or no one else to. Most importantly, they will make navigating high school a heck of a lot easier.

— Rusty Joe Gonzales

Now for middle school, in all technicality, this lasted from fifth through eighth grade, as I attended Rogers for fifth grade before the school district moved it back down to elementary. This is the era where I remember feeling like Prosper was truly beginning to grow. I remember riding the bus to the babysitter’s after school, seeing the construction site of what is now the Kroger shopping area and wondering what was going to be built.

During this time in my life, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t struggle with mental health issues, I won’t go into heavy detail, but I will say that I did feel alone during those four years. As far as extracurriculars go, I was a part of the choir from fourth to sixth grade, really seeing that as my only option at the time. That was until course selection opened for seventh grade, where I had discovered a love for photography and cameras and quickly joined the Video Production class, where I then joined the video announcements team for my eighth-grade year.

It was during my time in the broadcast class that I discovered Journalism and Newspaper. Towards the end of eighth grade, we had a day where we would be with our electives class, come up to the high school, and see some of the electives offered as the older kids went about their typical class day. It was during this tour that I first met our newspaper adviser Lisa Roskens. The exact thing or things that drew me into the class escape me now, but I do remember excitedly signing up for the Journalism I course when course selection opened up for freshman year.

Starting freshman year, remnants of the reserved person I was in middle school still hung about, but throughout this year, I slowly started to build more confidence in myself. Some of it bolstered by Mrs. Roskens and my newfound best friend, Alyssa Clark, in my Journalism I class, which quickly became my favorite class on my schedule. Through this course, I got to learn the ins and outs of AP style and the different types of articles, as well as joining UIL Journalism after some persuasion from Mrs. Roskens. Through the class and traveling for UIL,  Alyssa and I found ourselves attached at the hip, and suddenly I had my first high school best friend.

Freshman year was filled with plenty of ups and downs, from a failed romantic pursuit, to a rough experience at my first homecoming football game as a high school student, which eventually turned into the biggest highlight of my freshman year – publishing an editorial over my experience at the homecoming game and some of the safety concerns I had  trying to navigate the area when leaving the game. I initially wrote the article for an assignment in my journalism class, but after some motivating from Mrs. Roskens, I decided to go forth and have her propose the article to that year’s editorial board for official publication. Once I got to that point of experience, I was hooked onto a newfound love and passion for the art of journalism and journalistic writing.

A Love for Journalism

Going into sophomore year, I had signed up to be in the official newspaper class. A place where I could truly begin to sharpen my writing and photography skills, as well as build new relationships, which started the second a staff group chat was formed. I still distinctly remember a message from that year’s editor-in-chief Grace Williamson asking if anyone wanted to go to a school group’s car wash fundraiser. So, being as bored as I was, I quickly accepted the invitation, and off we went. What should have been, and very well could have been, a quick 10-minute bonding moment turned into a 30-minute adventure where we went from the fundraiser at Sonic to a snow cone stand in Celina for a nice cold treat and a moment I’ll never forget. While I do not think I would call us friends, after that adventure, I definitely respected Grace as an upperclassman, an editor, and, most importantly, a mentor for the year to come.

Once the school year actually started, I quickly fell into a new group dynamic that consisted of me, Alyssa, Gabby Winans and Christi Norris in what we dubbed “the support parallelogram” due to the shape of our group of desks not quite being a perfect square, but close enough to give it that name. They supported and coached me through my first several publications, especially Alyssa who was consistently my partner (and ride) to outside-of-school events that needed covering.

Another friendship that I started to form that year was with Emma Hutchinson, who I had barely known before covering lacrosse with her in what felt like 20-degree weather, but after freezing your butt off for upwards of an hour with someone, it’s hard to come out of that without considering yourselves as friends.

Going into junior year, I continued to be good friends with Alyssa, Gabby, Christi and even added two new people, Morgan Reese and that year’s editor in chief Amanda Hare. This was also my first year being in a true leadership position, as I was nominated to be the social media director for the 2021-22 school year. Throughout the year, I grew closer with everyone mentioned above and slowly turned into more of a Taylor Swift fan thanks to Morgan and Amanda. While junior year can be stressful and chaotic for many people, and as it was for me, the ENO period became a breath of fresh air in my class schedule. It was, and still is, somewhere I could relax and truly be myself and work on whatever I happened to find interesting at the time. One distinct memory I have from this year was the trip to Fall Fiesta in San Antonio. There were plenty of chaotic moments, like when Mrs. Roskens put one half of the car up on the curb when we were pulling out of a gas station, of course causing all of us in the car to freak out a little, but these moments also created memories that will last a lifetime.

At the end of that year, after the current editorial board was formed and announced, and I was asked to be the entertainment editor for my senior year. Of course, I accepted the position. I trusted Kalyani and Mrs. Roskens’ decision to nominate me for the position and prepared for the next year in my biggest leadership role to date.

After being sad over the class of 2022 leaving, summer began, and mine included attending NSPA’s Gloria Shields Workshop in Dallas. Since it was close by, the school wouldn’t pay for hotel rooms for us attending, and I couldn’t drive yet. It was an intense, but also fun, week of attending classes, winning prizes, and forming friendships. One such friendship that I formed this past summer was with Rock Hill senior Shreya Srivathsan. She was someone that I had roughly heard about in years past, but had never really connected with until this summer and a lunch date at Buffalo Wild Wings that sealed the deal on our friendship. With some encouragement from Mrs. Roskens, I applied for the scholarships that the workshop was offering and ended up winning one worth $1,000, for which I am eternally grateful.

Now for the actual start of my senior year, and my final year on the newspaper team. To say that it hasn’t been exactly what I expected it to be would be an understatement. I knew that with a majority of my friends graduated, I would have to start over with forming friendships in newspaper, and then entered three people during our boot camp: fellow seniors Brooke Murphree and Nora Vedder and junior Lauren Clayton. These three, along with senior and second-year staff member Alex Drum, have been some of my closest friends this year when I truly expected to have no one. Another expectation that I had for this school year was that when I took the Newspaper Practicum class, meaning I have it every day, there would be more people in there. The year did start out with more than just two people in the class on B days, but by second quarter it became just me and one other senior, Mithra Cama. When the year began, I barely knew Mithra. I had heard her name here and there throughout the years, which can be expected of two K-12 students, but I have really only gotten to know her and call her one of my friends after a year of practicum together.

Senior year has been chaotic and fun, and I cannot believe that it is almost over. While this may sound like the ending to this column, it is not, as I have several important people in my life to thank for getting me this far.

My Future

Standing next to a red pickup, senior Rusty Joe Gonzales holds up a sign from their college acceptance package from Texas Tech. “What drew me to the university was not only the academics, but also how despite the large campus, it still felt like a small school and Lubbock had those country small town vibes that I have always longed to live in,” Gonzales said. “Of course, already having a friend at the school helped my decision plenty.”

This is probably going to be the shortest section. Starting this fall, I will be a first year student at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, five and a half hours, 320 miles,, and a whole different atmosphere away from the DFW metroplex that I have grown familiar with. Which is exactly why I chose to go there. My family have always been Tech fans ever since I was little and even before then, my mom went there for a small bit of time and due to that, I was born with scarlet and black in my veins. I did explore different options for higher education over my four years of high school before finally landing on this school after touring over the summer. I was told about their reputable and coveted journalism program, and even got to tour their newspaper’s newsroom and hear from their adviser and the 2022-23 editor-in-chief, but that was right before I ended up switching my major to Agricultural Communications. I do still intend to apply for a staff position on The Daily Toreador, but I wanted to broaden my horizons and potential post-graduation career options. What drew me to the university was not only the academics but also how despite the large campus, it still felt like a small school and Lubbock had those country small-town vibes that I have always longed to live in. Of course, already having a friend at the school helped my decision plenty.

Shoutouts & ‘Thank You’s

As with most people, I could not have come this far in my educational career without the assistance of others, so it is time for some shoutouts to some of the people I hold closest in my life. Now, these are in no particular order, but the last few people I will mention are some of the most important in my life.

To Alyssa Clark: we met my freshman year in Journalism I. Throughout the times that we competed in UIL together, traveling all around the metroplex to test our skills against other schools, and even just chatting with each other in class, you have been an everlasting light of positivity, kindness and grace with just a touch of quiet chaos. Everything you have done in life thus far has been done to near perfection and with constant and consistent compassion. You tolerated my rants over attractive streamers in newspaper sophomore year when we should have been working, and there is no one I would rather rant about music with or get new recommendations from. One of my fondest memories of us is watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off together during one of our first ever UIL tournaments. Through your constant positivity, you have truly been, in my personal opinion, one of ENO’s greatest leaders and I have loved having you in my corner for the past four years.

To Lauren Clayton, a lot of what I praised Alyssa for could be echoed here. You are a person full of positivity, kindness, grace and chaos. We only met this year, but you are one of the kindest humans I have had the honor of meeting in this lifetime. I have loved our endless chaotic rants about Leigh Bardugo’s books during class, along with seeing you grow into your own place on this team. You are one of the people on the team that I have helped coach up to writing articles for us and through that I have to thank you for helping me realize why I was nominated for a leadership position this year. We connected through boot camp when you had just moved here, and you have already done amazing things in your short time here at Prosper and as a member of ENO. I know that you will go on to continue to do great things, and to be an amazing leader, even if you do not get an official title for it. Your passion for all things wildlife, climate and the environment is awe-inspiring, and I know that you will go on to make great waves in that realm.

Standing in front of a smart board, senior Rusty Joe Gonzales and alumni Alyssa Clark take a photo together to celebrate the end of the 2021-22 school year. “One of my fondest memories of us is watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off together during one of our first ever UIL tournaments,” Gonzales said. “Through your constant positivity, you have truly been, in my personal opinion, one of ENO’s greatest leaders and I have loved having you in my corner for the past four years.” (Amanda Hare)

To Amanda Hare, my favorite aggie. Though you left just as we were truly getting to know one another, your impact on me has still been remarkable. I will never forget your intense passion for all things journalism and your even more intense love for Taylor Swift. If it weren’t for you and Morgan, I may not even listen to Taylor Swift as much as I do now. You have been an amazing mentor to me during my time on ENO, and I owe a lot to you and Alyssa for how I go about guiding and editing the articles of new team members. Both of you taught me to be someone’s friend first and foremost, and then to be a guiding hand and teacher as I edit their work using your infamous compliment sandwich.

To Cat Schurter, another person I only met this year. Your passion and enthusiasm for everything you get into is admirable, you are probably one of the most ambitious and creative people I know. Thank you for letting me rant about pretty much anything and everything during English class when we were supposed to be working. I love and appreciate how, even though we barely ever bring it up, you walk in Christ almost every day in the way you act, if everyone could be a little bit more like you in that regard, I think the world would be a much better place. While I will miss our conversations, I know you will go on to do amazing things at Cal Poly and I hope that you never surrender any of your passions and that you come back down to Texas every now and then.

To Shreya Srivathsan, while we only met this past summer, you are one of those people that I feel like I have known my entire life. Your passion for everything you are involved in is amazing, and while many people may see your goals as lofty, I know you will be able to shoot for the stars and land among them. You’re smart, dedicated, beautiful, and more mature than a lot of people I know, but yet that never stops you from enjoying the smaller and fun moments in life like our trip to the Perot Museum. You are going to do amazing things in life, and Michigan isn’t ready for the absolute girlboss they are getting with you coming. Here’s to hopefully hanging out again before we have to part ways and to getting together every time we’re both back home.

To Nora Vedder, while our friendship did start out kind of awkward due to events that I don’t think either of us would appreciate being detailed publicly, you have become one of my closest friends on the team this year. Your talent and eye for everything artistic and graphic design is amazing, and everything you create using such talent is absolutely stunning. While few people may see it, your quiet passion for everything you involve yourself in is admirable, and it shows through how much time you dedicate to perfecting everything you’re involved in. From what you have said, JMU is perfect for you and I hope that our friendship does not end when we walk across the stage next week.

To Emma Hutchinson, my favorite longhorn: there is no one I would rather meet up with when I make the several-hour trip to Austin for any reason. I will never forget shooting lacrosse with you in what felt like 20-degree weather and just how much your little blue car decorated with flowers perfectly encapsulated your vibes. You are one of my biggest mentors and role models when it comes to journalism and especially doing it at the collegiate level. Though we had a short time of knowing each other while you were still at PHS, it was enough for me to consider you one of my best friends.

To Jaci Bills, one of my first, and longest-lasting, online friendships: I can’t recall how we met, but I do know that we went from mere strangers who talked every now and again, to basically siblings who’s days aren’t complete if we don’t at least send each other a funny post we saw online somewhere. You encourage me to forever remain creative as well as giving me an outlet to write and express my creativity in ways that may not be accepted publicly. You allow me to let my imagination run wild as we create these fantastical worlds together that only exist for our eyes to see. You’ve always been one of my biggest supporters and I cannot wait for the day we finally get to hug each other and create chaos together in person.

To Astyn Powers and Cinthia Cruz, I honestly don’t know what to say here. After Jaci, you two are definitely one of my longest online friendships. We went from complete strangers bonding over fandoms on Twitter to basically being family and constantly adding activities to our future meet up agenda. I am forever blessed and grateful to have made the little chosen family that we have built over time. Our friendship is the antithesis to the theory that trio friendships never work out, and I can’t wait to see what all we achieve while remaining in each other’s corners for life.

To my sisters Macayla, Kendra and Katlyn, first, for the record, the order I put y’all’s names in has nothing to do with who’s my “favorite” sister. We may not come from the most conventional family, with Katlyn being the only one consistently in the same house as me when I was growing up, but the bond we have is as if we did grow up only years and a few rooms apart. You three have been in my corner since day negative one and I can never express how grateful I am for that. Despite everything I was diagnosed with at birth, you three never treated me any differently and knew that I could do anything I set my mind to. We may have the occasional argument and embarrassing moments, but I know y’all will always be there for me and that if anybody wrongs me in any sort of way, you three will be there in a heartbeat ready to strike. I also thank you for blessing me with nieces and nephews so close in age that we basically grew up as siblings. We may be a big and chaotic family, but I don’t think we would have it any other way. (p.s., I promise Lubbock isn’t as far as you three may think it is.)

To Mrs. Linda Smith and Dr. Holly Ferguson, thank you for instilling in me a love for learning and reading. The skills you two laid the foundation for when I was only four years old have lasted me a lifetime, and have taken me this far and beyond into college. My mom talks all the time about how I am the “prodigy child” of my ECSE/PPCD class, but that has all been thanks to you two. You gave me and my mom the tools to set me up for success and have given both of us our fair share of hard talks. I cannot say thank you enough for everything y’all have done for me and my family, but I hope that this small paragraph can say enough for now. Mrs. Smith, I’ll see you front row graduation night and Dr. Ferguson, I cannot wait for what will hopefully not be our last hug on graduation night.

Before the Academic UIL banquet, senior Rusty Joe Gonzales stands with superintendent Dr. Holly Ferguson. “My mom talks all the time about how I am the ‘prodigy child’ of my ECSE/PPCD class, but that has all been thanks to you two,” Gonzales said. “You gave me and my mom the tools to set me up for success and have given both of us our fair share of hard talks.” (Peggy Gonzales)

To Mrs. Lisa Roskens, thank you for taking a chance on me and recognizing my talent freshman year. From encouraging me to join UIL Journalism, to making sure my first ever article got published, you have done so much for me and I am eternally grateful for all of the opportunities you have gifted me with over the past four years. You have been more than just a teacher, adviser, or mentor to me, you have basically become a second mom. While I will miss you as I leave for college, don’t think that I won’t visit on my breaks from school.

To my Pa, I miss you every day. This March marked five years since you left us and remembering you, even the happy memories, never gets easier. I may have few regrets in life, but one of them was not being closer to you, especially during that last year or two. In working on my pickup and even just doing everything I do, I know I’m making you proud and that up there, you’re bragging on “your little man” to anyone who will listen. I can only hope to be half the man that you were in life, and I can’t wait until I can see you again.

Finally, the last person I can think to thank is God himself. It may be cliché, but I know I would not be where I am today if it were not for my faith in Him. While I may not attend church every Sunday morning, my experiences in life are enough for me to believe. While some people who have been in similar situations to mine may thank their doctors and surgeons, and of course I also thank them, I firmly believe that it is only by the power of prayer, miracles, in my faith in God that I am here today. He has given me the power and ability to achieve everything that I have in life, ringing Philippians 4:13 true every waking moment of my life.


Now for some advice, as what kind of final senior column would this be without some?

1. Do what makes you happy

While some people may encourage you to take a lot of AP and dual credit courses, all that I will say is to do whatever makes you happy and causes you the least amount of worry in your life. High school is both the longest and shortest four years of your life, so try to enjoy it while you can.

2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

During these four years, you may slowly grow up a little and realize a lot of things about life, and some times to learn you have to make mistakes. You have to fall in love with the wrong person or people to discover what you actually want in a relationship. You have to become friends with the wrong people to highlight those who actually belong in your life for good. You have to fall, adjust your methods, and get back up again. You may have no reason to, but trust me, I’m talking from experience here.

3. Find your people and hold them close

While it may take you awhile and some trial and error, try to find “your people.” Those few, or many, friends in an elective, club, or even outside of school that you can trust with your life. They will become your safe place, your home, somewhere and someone to go to when you have nowhere or no one else to. Most importantly, they will make navigating high school a heck of a lot easier.


To next year’s ENO staff, I know you will do amazing things. I may not be close with a lot of you, but know that I will always be in your corner. If you ever need editing tips, an opinion on something, or even just a shoulder to lean on, you have my number or my Instagram, so never be afraid to reach out.

To our readers, thank you for everything. We journalists are nothing without an audience to write for and to receive feedback from. We don’t write for the awards and recognition that we get, we write for you. I have been with this newspaper for four years, so to say it feels like I’m leaving behind a child of sorts would be an understatement, but I know I’m leaving it in good hands. Balancing everything we do is harder than it looks, but we couldn’t do it without each and every single reader who clicks onto our website and reads what we write, regardless of how often you may do so.

As I try to close out this article, I find myself at a lack of words, which is ironic for a journalist I know, but in lieu of anything I could say to close this out, I leave you with words from Taylor Swift’s 2022 NYU commencement speech.

“We are led by our gut instincts, our intuition, our desires and fears, our scars and our dreams. And you will screw it up sometimes. So will I… Anyway, hard things will happen to us. We will recover. We will learn from it. We will grow more resilient because of it. As long as we are fortunate enough to be breathing, we will breathe in, breathe through, breathe deep, breathe out.” – Taylor Swift

With Love,

Rusty Joe