For Faith Academy’s salutatorian, spreading joy is contagious.

“It’s nice seeing people smile when they have just received help,” said Grace Gonzalez, 17.

Just shy of the top spot by 0.098 points, Gonzalez was named second in her class with a GPA of 98.698.

Although the soon-to-be graduate said she loves to see those around her happy, her own smile has proved a blessing to those fortunate enough to share her life, said Gil Gonzalez, the school’s pastor and athletic director.

“She lights up the place,” he said. “Her aura is full of happiness and excitement. Whether you’re having good day or bad day, your day is only going to get better when you’re talking to her.”

Gonzalez said she hopes to bring that joy to the classroom by studying elementary education at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.

She said she chose that field in part because of some advice from a mentor two years her senior. But ultimately, she said, it was because serving others, especially children, is her passion.

Gonzalez discovered that passion by completing community service projects, serving on mission trips abroad and leading a prayer group at school.

In that prayer group, students would often approach her to ask for prayers for problems that ranged from physical aches and pains to more intangible difficulties, she said.

Despite those spiritual demands, Gonzalez found time to play varsity volleyball for four years, serve on student council, be crowned homecoming queen and court princess as well as participate in the school’s spring musical. She shared many of those activities with her friend, valedictorian Maryha Castillo.

But achieving success is just the norm at Gonzalez’s home. Her parents, who recently obtained their citizenship, have served as powerful motivators, said a gracious Gonzalez.

To her underclassmen, Gonzalez passed on some of the lessons she had learned about personal motivation.

“Don’t let yourself down,” she said.

Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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