By Christopher Smith
Her legs had been crushed.
Owning a lumber yard in Mexico has always been a blessing for the Torres family, but for Esperanza Torres, wife of the company owner and the matriarch of two boys, the factory nearly claimed her life when heavy logs fell off a machine and rolled over her legs, breaking both.
But Torres didn’t die. She recovered. And she kept working. That’s what inspired David Munoz, her son, to graduate Dalton State College. Munoz, 24, walked with the graduating class Wednesday night at the trade center.
College, when compared to overcoming serious injuries, isn’t so bad, Munoz said. It gives him perspective when faced with difficulties, he added.
“It’s a miracle my mom is still alive,” he said. “She was able to overcome that accident. She worked really hard. It really has inspired me. I’ve had my own ups and downs. But if I want something, I pursue it because of her.”
Now Munoz is receiving a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He said he dreams of a high profile job with the FBI or CIA and is thinking of applying to graduate or law school.
Though his mother and father are American citizens, Munoz said they are living in Mexico because of their “attachment” to the company and to be close with Torres’ relatives. Munoz said he has hardly seen anyone from back home since coming to America in 2008, first to New York, then to Dalton a year later after hearing about Dalton State College from a friend.
“We have communication over the phone,” Munoz said of his family. “Basically, that’s all I need. I mean, it’s not as much as I would like, but it is enough for me to not give up. I can keep going as long as I can hear my parents say, ‘Hey, you know, do what you got to do. Don’t quit and work hard.’ They are really happy.”
They are happy because Munoz is trailblazing for the family.
“This means a lot to them because both of my parents, my mom and my dad, always dreamed of being successful and pursuing a degree,” he said.
The last phone call with his mom, on Monday, was extra special because his family wasn’t at the graduation ceremony, Munoz said.
“I told my mom, ‘Hey, I worked hard for you.’ And she said, ‘Yes, you did and I’m really happy about that.’ In the end, they just want me to be happy. But if you want to be happy, if you want to achieve your goals, you have to work hard for it and in these times the best way to do that is in school,” he said.
Munoz admitted there were times he wanted to give up.
“Sometimes when you go to school you can get disappointed,” he said. “With homework, with exams, you know, you get depressed or anxious. I didn’t have an actual plan. I wanted to pursue a criminal justice degree, but it was more like, ‘Let’s just see how it goes.’ I wasn’t really enthusiastic.
“As I started, as time went by, I actually liked it here. I liked the student life and the teachers. The teachers actually talk to students. You’re not just a number. They actually know who you are. If you’re having trouble, they will be like, ‘Hey, you have to work hard’ or ‘We can work on this.’”
Two teachers in particular stood out to Munoz in his time at the college: Bonnie Semora and James Wright.
“I’m really, really thankful for them,” he said. “I felt welcomed at this college and I’ve gotten to know a lot of people.”
Munoz also wanted to thank Linda Wheeler, director of academic resource, for her help. Munoz added that an internship with District Attorney Bert Poston’s office was a highlight during his time in Dalton.
“They were really nice,” he said. “Glenn Swinney (chief investigator for the DA) was very helpful.”
Munoz said his immediate plans after graduating are to visit Mexico and spend some time with his family before returning to the United States to pursue more education.
“They need my help,” he said. “They are overburdened with work. So I’m going to stay there probably six months. I’m happy to see them. I know this won’t help me much towards my career, but they’ve helped me with my studies and I think it is my duty to help back whenever they need it.”