She was a student at Walker Valley High School two years ago when she was selected as the Youth of the Year at the Cleveland Boys and Girls Club. She advanced to be Tennessee Youth of the Year, regional Youth of the Year in Atlanta and runner-up in the national competition in Washington, D.C.
She visited with President Barack Obama at the White House, escorted by actor Denzel Washington. To cap it off, she got her picture taken at the president’s desk and received a kiss on the right cheek from Washington.
“I didn’t want to wash my cheek, but I finally did,” she said on a a recent visit to the Cleveland Daily Banner.
She said the theme of her speech at the Boys and Girls Club banquet this year will be about what the club means to her, and about what it gives to the children of Cleveland and Bradley County. “The Youth of the Year program is more than ‘You won, goodbye’ ” she said.
“Cleveland has truly supported me in all that I’ve done,” she added.
Hernandez, now a student at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, will be the guest speaker at this year’s Boys and Girls Club Awards Banquet scheduled Monday, Feb. 27, at the club’s Tucker Unit downtown. The banquet will start at 6:30 p.m.
The awards dinner will be for board members and senior staff. Six new board members will be inducted, including Dr. Martin Ringstaff, Wanda Evans, Flavis Casson, Gene Harrell, Chuck Beshears and David Humberd.
Awards to be presented will be this year’s Youth of the Year Maria Abeyta and the Employee of the Year (to be named).
Hernandez is not upset that she was beaten in the national competition in Washington. She said the competition gave her another good friend in national winner Mona Dixon of Arizona.
“We’ve kept in touch about our experiences,” Hernandez said. “We’re really good friends. I got to meet Denzel Washington, and she got to meet her role model — NBA star LeBron James. I think he gave her one of his shoes” she said.
Hernandez and Dixon have both traveled since their appearance in the national finals. Hernandez helped at a Youth Leadership Conference in France last year and plans to return for about six weeks this summer. She said a highlight of her 2011 trip was visiting the Eiffel Tower.
At ETSU she is studying to be a neo-natal nurse, and recently received the prestigious Patricia E. Robertson Diversity Leadership Award.
“They look at your grades and leadership abilities,” she said. “I had two letters of nomination.”
The amazing young lady said she realizes she has done more in her 20 years than most people her age.
“But, I still have a lot I want to do,” she said.
She’s looking at another five to six years of schooling.
“I enjoy Johnson City and ETSU,” she said, “although I sometimes miss my family. I have amazing brothers and sisters.”
She has four more years at ETSU and will then will transfer to medical school — hopefully at Vanderbilt or Yale.
Hernandez is proud of the fact she was able to help her family go on a vacation last year to Myrtle Beach. She said it was the first vacation they had taken together. She added that she wants some family time for herself this summer.
She enjoys the friends she had made in Johnson City, and movies and pizza parties. She said she has boy friends, but no boyfriend. “Boys will come later, when God finds someone for me,” added the level-headed young lady.
Hernandez said one of her biggest thrills was being able to talk to former Boys and Girls Club CEO Roxanne Spillett one-to-one. “She’s a very strong a woman, and she showed me she was proud of me,” she said. “She is an inspiration to me.”
She added that sitting in the president’s chair was another big thrill, as well as meeting (and getting a kiss from) Denzel Washington.
At the White House she displayed her confidence, despite being only a teenager at that time. When she asked if she could sit in the president’s chair, he replied, “Sure, I usually sit in the chair over by the window.”
The young lady from Cleveland replied, “No, I want to sit in the big chair behind the desk!”