By Thalia Hernandez ’18
William & Mary feels like home. With a parent in the Air Force, I moved around constantly as a kid so whenever people asked me where I grew up, I could only come up with non-answers: “everywhere,” “I moved around a lot,” “kind of Northern Virginia but only for half of my childhood?,” and on it goes. I hadn’t realized I never had a well-prepared answer to this question until freshman year at William & Mary, when this get-to-know-you question came up again and again. However, by the time I graduated in 2018, William & Mary had forever woven itself into the tapestry of where I’m from.
Like many 17 year olds, I came to college with just a slight idea of the kind of person I hoped to be. Ultimately, my time at W&M left me indelibly changed as a stronger, more well-rounded person. For this I have to thank the people I got to know: friends, classmates, club leaders, engaging and caring professors, my coworkers at Sadler Center and Campus Center, and those special strangers I made eye contact with who always went to the dining hall at the same time as me.
My friends brought experiences from all over the country and the world, unwavering support, and a life-long community stronger than I’d ever known. My professors expanded my worldview (thanks, French department), gave me the tools to do my own digging (thanks, Anthropology), and taught me how to thoughtfully see the power dynamics in every situation (thanks, Linguistics)! I especially valued the LGBTQ community on campus – diverse and diffuse as it is – which was unapologetic, authentic, and brimming with leaders.
I was lucky enough to find community in a variety of clubs focusing on LGBTQ campus life, environmental issues, reproductive justice, Latin American student community, and more. These organizations taught me not only the importance of leadership and service, but also how to be a leader with real hands-on experience. This included the necessary skills of planning, teaching, facilitation, how to build and hold together communities, plus lots and lots of organization (Google docs galore).
Without knowing it at the time, this would be crucial to helping me figure out my next career steps after college, as I eventually applied to work at nonprofits, especially those working with the LGBTQ community. Not to mention, I could point directly to my years of student organization leadership as direct job experience. I continued to use these skills in my jobs after college so I’m grateful for those who encouraged me to get involved with campus life.
Looking ahead as I transition careers, I’m hoping to gain experience abroad teaching English in France. This exciting possibility is only open to me because I had great relationships with French professors, an unforgettable summer study abroad in France, a strong foundation in the studies of culture and linguistics, and experience as a mentor and facilitator thanks to student organizations. And of course, the friendships I made have continued to support me every step of the way. William & Mary allowed me to cultivate my passions and build long-lasting relationships that continue to shape who I am and where I’m going. For these reasons, William & Mary is a place I will always call home.
Connect with Thalia on LinkedIn.