Late Sac State student’s legacy of giving continues


Isabel Ward

The barrier of cancer could not stand in the way of education for Sacramento State alumni Henry Giron, who graduated with honors before succumbing to the disease in February 2011. 

Giron’s feat of education did not just stop with himself; he left behind a powerful legacy to Sac State and the surrounding community by creating a scholarship fund that allows struggling students to reach their full potential.

Giron’s mother, Nury Giron, said her son helped many people during his time at Sac State.

“He was the guy who would talk to you (and) he would tell you what’s best (for you) to do,” Nury Giron said. 

Giron was diagnosed with cancer right before his 29th birthday, Nury Giron said.

“He was at his apartment with his roommates and he couldn’t breathe, so they called (the) paramedics,” Nury Giron said. “They came over thinking it was just a cold or lung problems, but that day, they found out he had cancer.”

Close friend and graduate student Roberto Torres said even after being diagnosed with cancer, Giron kept a positive outlook on his life.

“He was diagnosed with cancer and he never let that get in his way,” Torres said. “He was still making plans for his future.”

Being near graduation, Giron still wanted to complete school, Nury Giron said.

“Even the professor said, ‘You don’t have to stay. You can go home.’ (But) he said, ‘No, I’m (going to) finish it,’” Nury Giron said.

Giron’s girlfriend, graduate student Berenice Espitia, said Giron managed to go to class while enduring the symptoms of chemotherapy, even though it was difficult to do.

“He fought until the last minute of his life. He’s a fighter in every aspect,” Espitia said.

Raised in West Hills, California, Giron interned for the Los Angeles City Council and the California State Capitol.

“He always kept himself busy with organizations that made a difference at Sac State and across the state,” Torres said.

Giron’s aspiration was to go to Pepperdine University to get his masters in public policy.

“He knew that financially (attending Pepperdine) was going to be a struggle (and) he didn’t want others to struggle as much as he did,” Torres said.

Before passing, Giron dreamed of starting a scholarship fund to enable students like himself who were struggling financially to graduate.

The scholarship was originally intended to assist students who were battling cancer to graduate.

“Henry wanted to put (the scholarship fund) in place to help future students who have gone through cancer or who are going through cancer and really need to not worry about how they’re going to pay for their books or how they’re going to pay for school,” Torres said.

Nury Giron said her son wanted to start the scholarship fund, designated for students with 3.0 GPAs or higher, because he was always fighting for students’ education.

“About two weeks before he passed away, he said, ‘Mom how (are) we going to do this? You know, the scholarship. Do you want me to write letters to everybody asking for money?’” Nury Giron said.

Nury Giron told her son not to worry about the fund, that she would take care of it.

As soon as Giron passed away, the family started to raise money for the scholarship fund by holding carnivals at Noble Avenue Elementary School in North Hills, where Nury Giron works, and selling food like empanadas at Giron’s home.

There are about 250 family members who have helped raise the money, Nury Giron said.

“For us, it’s our family (involved). Cousins, nephews, nieces – everybody comes and they pitch in. They (cook) and they help me serve,” Nury Giron said. 

Sac State’s Development Office Administrator and Director of Major and Planned Gifts Kevin Gonzalez has worked with the family on the scholarship fund and said the fund is for students who are involved in some of the same organizations and activities Giron was active in. In addition to ASI, Giron worked with the California State Student Association, volunteered as a Safe Rides coordinator and was a DJ at student-run radio station KSSU.

“When we looked at actually being able to give the scholarship out, we wanted to focus on the positive aspects of his life and his activities on campus,” Gonzalez said.

Family, friends and even staff members on campus have been making gifts to the Henry Giron Scholarship Fund, Gonzalez said.

“The gift has just recently reached the $11,000 mark and we’re going to make it an endowment so it will be a lasting scholarship,” Gonzalez said. “It will go on as long as the endowment is intact. It will be awarded on an annual basis.”

Gonzalez said the first award will be given fall 2013.

“(The scholarship award) should be around $500,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the target in the early years. As the endowment grows, the scholarship will also grow.”

If friends of Henry want to contribute to the fund, Gonzalez said their organizations can hold fundraisers and make gifts to the Henry Giron Scholarship fund, and the development office will put the funds into the account. 

Nury Giron said she hopes to continue to raise money for the Henry Giron Scholarship Fund to help students achieve their goals, but also Henry’s name will remain and everyone will remember him for who he was.

Torres said Giron wanted to change the world.

“There are people who sometimes take life for granted and the things that they have for granted,” Torres said. “(Henry) always saw it as, ‘No, no – we do good, so that other people can learn from us and do better.’”