“I was getting a couple dollars over minimum wage and thought this is my place, and maybe my dead end,” said Hernandez, who admits her co-workers had an altogether different viewpoint, one that likely launched her pursuit of a career in dentistry.
“My co-workers, even the doctors, kept encouraging me to go to college, which I never thought was possible. It was not something we ever talked about at home growing up,” she said. “I finally took their advice (in 2018) and here I am today.”
Hernandez ‘today’ is about to become a first-generation graduate – with honors – and she will serve as student speaker for Amarillo College’s historic 100th commencement ceremony, which also will be AC’s first-ever entirely virtual graduation celebration.
The one-hour milestone event, featuring Hernandez’s remarks and hundreds of smiling, regalia-topped faces, will premiere at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 21 on both a live stream and on Panhandle PBS (KACV-TV).
It will be re-broadcast on partnering local network affiliates in the days immediately following its original airing. For a complete schedule of viewing opportunities, visit www.actx.edu/graduation.
Hernandez is one of 1,068 potential spring and upcoming-summer graduates, about 600 of whom elected to participate in the virtual commencement.
While all of the spring/summer graduates are invited to physically walk the stage at AC’s next in-person commencement, the virtual participants also wanted the immediacy of a May experience. By signing up for it, each was mailed complementary regalia – caps and gowns – which they were asked to wear in photos that will appear when their names are called during the virtual ceremony.
Each participant also was asked to submit a quote to accompany their photo.
“This will be a very personal celebration of our students, featuring their words and their images,” AC President Russell Lowery-Hart said. “I’m so proud of our graduates and I encourage each and every one of them, their families, and our entire community to join us for this unprecedented virtual celebration.”
Hernandez will tell her fellow graduates how proud they can be for having overcome the disruptions of a global pandemic to finish what they started. She also will admit that her road to academic success did not begin with a scholarly bang.
“Since I didn’t feel like I belonged in college, I decided from the start to just attend class and go home, nothing more, and all I got at first were low grades and high anxiety,” Hernandez said. “I considered dropping out.
“Fortunately, I decided instead to try getting more involved. I joined the science club, became a Student Ambassador, and I began mentoring several students. I got connected to my professors, and everything changed. My grades shot up.”
Hernandez says she will move in the weeks ahead to San Antonio, where she plans to obtain a bachelor’s degree in biology, ever with an eye on being accepted to a dental school.
“It’s like I tell the students I mentored, or even any high school students who are not sure what they want to do: You can learn a lot about yourself at a college like AC,” Hernandez said.
“You may not know what you want to major in at first, but take it from someone who never thought college was even possible – the faculty here want nothing less for you than success. It might be a rollercoaster, but it’s a really good ride.”