LatinX Maintaining Connections

William & Mary Feels Like Home

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.


Embrace the Experience

By Jackie Valles `19

As someone who graduated two years ago, it’s easy to look back on my experience at William & Mary with rose colored glasses, but the reality is that as a woman of color, my experience was extremely different from many of the other students I went to school with. Although it took some time to find my community, W&M provided a lot of learning lessons for the corporate world and life after. Hopefully these next few bits of my experience help you as a recent alumnus or as an incoming student.

My first takeaway is to always embrace your culture. I’m a proud Salvadoran and I make sure that everyone knows that. Embracing your culture will help you find people that are similar but also bring a unique character and perspective to campus. I was grateful to have done the PLUS program before orientation and joined Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Inc. which is W&M’s only Latina based sorority. My friends from PLUS and the women of SIA ended up being my soundboard and family during school (and now after graduating).  

My second takeaway would be to get out of your comfort zone. It’s easy to rely on and be with the same people all the time, but it’s not until you get out of your comfort zone that you begin to grow and find opportunities (this also applies to networking outside of your team once you join the workforce)! The scariest thing I did while being at school was join the admissions office. For a long time, I undervalued my experience and didn’t think I could give valuable insights to prospective students. Joining the team gave me the chance to see W&M through excited high school seniors and rising seniors at W&M who were involved in other areas of campus. This gave me a greater appreciation for the school! I quickly learned that so many people go W&M for different reasons (my reason was money/financial aid). Being able to leave your comfort zone will also help after graduation because you may have to build your own community. I was lucky to start at a company that had an Employee Resource Group dedicated to helping Latinx professionals, but this is not always the case.

Lastly, I would appreciate all the experiences that W&M has to offer (whether good or bad). I know many black and brown students sometimes feel like they don’t belong or are kept on the outskirts of W&M because I felt that way. But, even through those feelings, I was able to leave my mark on the school and make friends for a lifetime. Appreciate the space you are in and know that you are uniquely you, take charge to make change, and you will be looking back reminiscing with rose colored glasses as well.

Connect with Jackie on LinkedIn.