International student shares perspective at gradation


Photo Provided to the Clarion

Vianey Hernandez, center, poses with her family at graduation. Hernandez was the student speaker at the mid-year graduation ceremony.

Jessica Deegan, News Editor

As Vianey Hernandez stood at the podium during Madison College’s graduation ceremony, she was living an experience she never would have pictured years ago.

The mid-year graduation ceremony speaker’s journey to obtain her associate’s degree in liberal arts was a winding path.

Due to her legal status when she started class at Madison College, Hernandez couldn’t apply for Financial Aid, which resulted in her only taking a couple courses at a time. This meant that receiving her two-year degree took five years. Her journey to get to this point, however, has been remarkable.

Hernandez was born in Mexico and later moved to Sacramento, California, when she was 10 years old. Hernandez didn’t obtain her legal United States documents (green card) until she was 23.

The hardships she endured as a result of this restricted her more than some can imagine.

In eighth grade, Hernandez was elected to spend the summer at Stanford because of her outstanding GPA. In high school, when her classmates were getting their driver’s licenses and taking college tours, Hernandez knew in the back of her mind that all of these things were not an option for her because of her legal status at the time.

Hernandez lived with her mother and three younger brothers. She began working at Little Caesars at the age of 16 to help her mother pay for the phone bill, rent, groceries and school supplies for her younger siblings.

“But those are the things that made me appreciate all that I have now,” said Hernandez.

Hernandez met her husband, Alonso, in California, where they dated for seven months before getting married on their way to Wisconsin to attend school. Alonso understood and greatly supported Hernandez’s passion for school and determination to obtain a degree, so he gave her the option to get married sooner than they planned, so that she could receive legal residency from his United States citizenship.

“I wasn’t documented for about 13 years of my life, so this was huge to me. As soon as I got my documents it was like a new me. It just gave me all the confidence and it was like I was reborn again,” said Hernandez.

“It was just what I needed. I am now able to apply for a FAFSA, get a driver’s license, leave and enter the country when I please and apply for my citizenship,” said Hernandez.

Although her journey to a degree was long, Hernandez cherishes the faculty and staff who had helped her along the way, but she never thought that she would be recognized for anything more.

Weeks before graduation, Hernandez was asked by two of Madison College’s faculty to speak at the graduation ceremony.

“I instantly began crying,” explained Hernandez, “I never thought, even in my wildest dreams, that someone was going to think of me as a speaker for graduation. I know that I have done a lot within the school, but until I had to start tallying things up for graduation, I never knew exactly how much I did.”

A large part of Hernandez’s life involves doing various acts of community service while expecting nothing in return. Hernandez has traveled to local shelters, volunteered at the River Food Pantry, delivered lunch for children and families, and has applied to be a part of the Rape Crisis Center.

“I am very passionate about helping people – it just fulfills me. I never think about what I will get in return, never. I have just met so many incredible people who have helped me through Madison College and I just feel that I need to give back in some way,” said Hernandez.

“I’ve worked very, very hard to be where I am today, but I couldn’t have done it without the support system I created,” said Hernandez.

“I think it’s important for students to know that if you want to be successful you have to put in the effort and be able to be humble when you need help. Surround yourself with positive people, and people who will help you reach your goals. This has been a long wait for me, but it was worth it.”