Texas / Antelma Flores / Mayo 26, 2014South Texas College Gateway to College student Alejandro Hernández is still taking in the series of events that took place over the past couple of months that led him from STC’s Technology Campus in McAllen to Washington, D.C., where he was a guest speaker at the GradNation Summit at the end of April.
Hernández won a scholarship in March to attend the GradNation Summit after submitting an essay and video as part of the scholarship’s application process. The summit is the flagship event of the America’s Promise Alliance GradNation Campaign, a large and growing movement of dedicated individuals, organizations and communities pulling together to empower more young Americans to graduate from high school on time, and ready for college, careers, and thriving adulthood, according to the organization’s website.
“I’m honored that they chose me. I was a bit nervous when I applied because it was nationwide,” Hernández said. “The experience was pretty awesome, I enjoyed it. I met four other Gateway students there and one of the other scholarship winners is going Harvard.”
For the first time in U.S. history the nation’s high school graduation rate rose above 80 percent, according to the 2014 Building a GradNation Report released on April 28 by Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center, America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education.
Keynote speaker and America’s Promise founding chairman Gen. Colin Powell announced at the summit that the new goal was to reach a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020.
As part of an 11-person panel that was given a voice at the summit, Hernández told his story to help the campaign understand what a 90 percent national graduation rate might look like and understand why it hasn’t been reached yet.
“My speech went pretty well and after my talk a lot of people came up to me,” Hernández said. “They want me to be a mentor for them and I got the chance to meet Senator Hinojosa and General Colin Powell. Senator Hinojosa supports a bunch of programs like Gateway and they want me to be a speaker to motivate others.”
“Days before Alejandro departed I sensed his fear of the unknown and for any young person the thought of speaking, especially in Washington D.C., can bring out their deepest fears. However, this trip was also going to be a great opportunity and experience of a lifetime for him,” added STC Gateway to College Director Michael Wilson. “Upon his return he was elated to have been a major influence to others at the event. I firmly believe this trip has inspired Alejandro to be an inspiration to others. He can help change the lives of other youth who may be in a similar circumstance in life.”
STC’s Gateway to College Program helps youth, ages 15-25, by giving them an opportunity for a second chance. Eligible students are those that experienced difficulties in a high school setting that may be behind in credits or have dropped out. This second chance program provides students an opportunity to earn their high school diploma and college credits at the same time.
“I’m finishing my classes and I’m starting to take some college classes, that way when I get in I’ll be ahead. It’s a different environment, but the college setting is good,” said Hernández, who attended high school at Mission. “If I would’ve stayed there, I probably would’ve been at risk of not graduating. I was in a bad environment. There were a lot of distractions, problems and fights. I found the learning pace was also a little slower too, but when I got here to the Gateway to College Program, it’s all self-paced.”
“The experience at Gateway has been pretty good,” he added. “I find it really helpful because in high school they can’t really give you that much individual attention because of the class size, but here it’s all self-paced and if you have any questions, you can always ask them.”
Hernández was motivated to apply for the GradNation Scholarship by one of the Gateway to College mentors, Rosie Villa. In the essay he prepared for the scholarship application, Hernández discussed his struggles and how he dealt with them, the people who helped him and about his experiences in school. He also prepared an inspirational video based on his essay.
“I was in shock for the whole afternoon that I was selected. I kept thinking about how I was going to be sharing the experiences and struggles I had to deal with, and what we as students need to be motivated to continue going to school,” Hernández expressed. “In my essay, I talked about people who helped me get through school and motivating me so I wouldn’t attempt to think about not going to school.”
“In life we can choose to survive or we can choose to succeed,” he concluded. “Surviving is going to school, getting a job and just living every day. Succeeding is going out there and trying to achieve something more, trying to reach your goals.”
For more information about STC’s Gateway to College Program, call (956) 872-6263 or visit www.stcgateway.info.