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Finding courage in an unlikely place

By   /   September 5, 2013  /   Comments Off

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Photo by Denton Dooley

Rosalie DeAstis // features editor

After his dark high school days, Felipe Hernandez finds himself through getting involved on campus and making the most out of his education.

“If you’re not ready now, when will you be?”

That is the firm mindset of 21 year-old Felipe Hernandez. But back in his high school days, Hernandez admits he wasn’t exactly on a good path like he is today.

“I wasn’t involved, I was friends with a bad crowd and was getting trouble with the law,” he openly told me.

“I wasn’t in a good place.”

Hernandez grew up in Glendale Heights with his parents and two brothers, Miguel and Auriel. He and his family moved to Chicago from Mexico in 1999 when he was 7 years old.

“It was hard at first adjusting to a new language, but thankfully I was young and caught on pretty fast.”

After graduating high school in 2010, he was strongly encouraged by his parents, who are both college educated, to enroll at COD because it was close to home. Felipe’s first year at the college, he acknowledges that he wasn’t living up to his fullest potential.

“I was in a bad stage – working crappy jobs with crappy shifts, I was dealing with depression and was getting terrible grades,” he commented.

“I felt like I had no future.”

In fall 2011, he made the decision to finally apply himself to his education and get straight A’s.

“I remember my first day of classes that year, one of my teachers passed out a paper that asked us to write down what grade we expect to earn for that course,” he explains.

“I wrote down ‘A’, and the teacher asked me, ‘will there be anything holding you back? And I go, NOTHING.”

The intensity in Felipe’s voice solidified the eagerness I felt in the room the second he walked in my office.

That school year, he was invited to attend meetings for COD’s Latin Ethnic Awareness Association, which is an organization that explores Latin American heritage and engages in many activities and community involvement. He eventually checked it out and slowly got more involved with them while building a network of friends.

“Last year we volunteered for Feed My Starving Children, we packed food for children in Africa, and I really enjoyed doing both.”

This past spring semester, Hernandez was named the 2013-2014 LEAA president.

“I think my club members saw my potential, how I was ‘hungry’ to learn,” he said when asked how he achieved that title.

“I was scared at first, but I asked myself, ‘when will an opportunity like this come again’?”

Felipe is also extremely appreciative of how the organization has molded him into the ambitious person he is today.

“They basically nurtured me, and that’s what I hope to do in the future – build connections like that to make people powerful.”

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Photo by Denton Dooley

This past June, Felipe was featured in a three-day series on Univision Chicago, our city’s Latin news channel, where he spoke about gangs, drugs, and why education is the key to a better future. Motivational speaker, Robert Renteria, is friends with LEAA advisor, Saraliz Jimenez, and was looking for someone to fit the series. After a successful interview with Felipe, the series was filmed in May and aired this June. The mission of the show was for other families in the Latin community who are in situations like Felipe was in, to realize their futures are in their hands and it is possible to make something of yourself.

Through LEAA, Hernandez also took advantage other opportunities off campus to reach out to more kids like himself. L@yal (Latino/a Youth Action League) is the first undocumented youth led organization in DuPage and is focused on empowering and building critical thinking while raising awareness through community building. He attended an event of theirs for the first time last October and quickly started to get more affiliated with them.

“It’s really a safe environment for these kids to share their stories and empower each other,” said Felipe, who was named L@yal’s community organizer in January of this year.

Felipe also greatly accredits his drive and confidence to his mother.

“My mother is an extremely positive, powerful woman,”

“She never gave up on me.”

This past summer Hernandez attended COD’s Student Leadership Council annual Summer Leadership Retreat where he spent two days in at George Williams College in William’s Bay, Wisconsin. Over 60 students from the many different clubs at the college went to the retreat to acquire skills they could bring back to their groups to improve and encourage them. He also was a New Student Orientation Leader for this school year where he helped welcome 450 new students.

LEAA’s first meeting is today at 2 p.m. in SSC 1225. Anyone is welcome to attend. They will also be at the Student Life Fair today 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the SSC/SRC lower walkway. This year, Felipe and LEAA plan on showing a documentary called “Precious Knowledge” at the end of September, a film that is about a group of high schoolers who become leaders in their Ethnic Studies classes in Arizona as lawmakers try eliminate the program.  They also have dance planned for the fall semester and spring semester. In addition, they will be participating two conferences. One being the Si Se Puede Conference Oct. 10 at Lewis University, which is aimed at empowering Latino/a youth to go to college. The other one will be the IL Legislative Latino Caucus Foundation Conference in Romeoville Nov. 22, which discusses important issues in the Latino community.

“I’ve met so many knowledgeable people that helped me open up my eyes to see how important education is,” he commented about the conferences he attended in the past.

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Photo by Ian Stangebye

Felipe is currently enrolled in automotive classes and one of his goals this year is to join COD’s Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. He hopes to see LEAA gain at least 30 active members this year. He’s looking to transferring to UIC after this year.

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Photo by Denton Dooley

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