(Photo above: Tina Hernandez, center, flanked by friends Madison Burt, left, and Stephanie Jankowski, right.)
Tina Hernandez hasn’t seen her husband in almost a year. “It’s been a long nine months,” she said. Hernandez is a senior at UW Tacoma. She graduates in June with a degree in social welfare. Her husband serves in the U.S. Army and is currently deployed to Pakistan. “In past deployments he took his leave about halfway through but he decided to wait this time,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez and her husband will be reunited for two weeks starting June 6. “He’s coming home to see me graduate,” said Hernandez. The 29-year-old will have a healthy cheering section at Commencement. Her mother and older brother are flying in from Germany for the occasion, but family won’t be the only ones applauding. “I wasn’t sure anyone would be here to watch me graduate,” said Hernandez. “Even then my friends told me I wouldn’t be by myself, that they’d have my back.”
The Tina Hernandez that crosses the Commencement stage later this month is different from the one who first came to the United States six years ago. “I didn’t feel confident in my English,” she said. “I was in a shell and didn’t feel like I belonged.”
Hernandez enrolled at South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) about a year after moving to Washington State. “I signed up for an English class thinking I would learn grammar and how to improve my vocabulary,” she said. “It was a writing class.” Hernandez thought about dropping the course but was talked out of it by her instructor. “She told me to wait until after I wrote my first paper,” said Hernandez. “When I got the paper back she sat down with me and told me ‘Tina, this is good. You can do it.’”
A quarter into her time at SPSCC Hernandez learned she’d be moving. Her husband received transfer orders to Colombia. Hernandez finished her associate’s degree online. While in Colombia she volunteered with different organizations. “I worked with school kids,” said Hernandez. “It was very humbling, very eye-opening.”
It's a privilege and an honor to graduate from such a great school. I'm honestly very proud of myself.”
Hernandez lived in Colombia for two years. She returned to Washington in 2016 and started at UW Tacoma that fall. Hernandez’s interest in social work dates back to a job she worked in Germany. “It was kind of like an apprenticeship,” she said. “They had this program where you could volunteer for an organization of your choice.” Hernandez opted to help out at a drug rehabilitation center. “That’s kind of where I found my passion.”
This summer Hernandez begins work on a master’s degree in social work at UW Seattle. “I want to do something that matters, something that impacts people,” she said. She has already accomplished that much: she is one of the UW 2018 Husky 100, an honor which recognizes students who are making the most of their time at the university.
Hernandez has shifted her focus away from counseling and toward policy but she’s still committed to helping people on an individual level. “I’ve shifted to policy, to the macro side of social work but you can’t do that without knowing the micro side,” she said.
Hernandez will attend graduate school with two friends she met while at UW Tacoma. “No one in my family went to college and I never saw myself at a university,” she said. “It was hard sometimes but my husband and my friends believed in me and helped keep me going.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org