It’s the dream of every immigrant to the United States: to come to the land of opportunity and stake your claim to a better life than in your home country; more importantly, to provide your children with a better life than you had. The father of South Mecklenburg valedictorian Lizbeth Hernandez can say that he’s living the American Dream.
Born in San Antonio, Guanajuato in Mexico, Lizbeth’s parents had no cultural emphasis on learning. “There’s only one elementary school there,” she explains. “Work is emphasized above education.” When the family moved to Charlotte shortly before she began school, Lizbeth quickly learned the value of a good work ethic.
“Since Kindergarten, I’ve had to do everything myself,” she says. She emphasizes that this was not because her parents were disengaged, but rather simply did not know how to help her in her studies. “My father used to work twelve-hour days, and I never saw him. My mother was very supportive but could not help.”
None of the Hernandez clan spoke English when they arrived in North Carolina. Her father has since learned the language, but her mother still struggles. She credits her ESL teachers with much of her success, and for giving her the confidence to achieve.
“I was terrified in of being called on in normal class because I still had the accent,” Lizbeth says. “ESL put me in class with students who didn’t know English either. If you pronounced something wrong, no one made fun of you because they were all learning too.” Lizbeth drew on the experience, and now tutors ESL students at Quail Hollow Middle. She says that her focus is not just teaching children how to read and speak English, but also how to comprehend the subjects they’re reading and discussing.
When asked how she was able to achieve at such a high level without the home resources that other students had, she replies that the Internet was her best friend. When she learned about Advanced Placement courses, it was through online research. Her appetite for AP was voracious, leading her to take no less than sixteen courses, including European, World and US History, Psychology and Calculus.
True to the promise of the American Dream, Lizbeth’s hard work has paid off. She will graduate at the top of her class, the recipient of the Harvard University Faculty Scholarship. The award provides a free education at the United States’ most prestigious university, where she will study Economics in the fall. Looking back, she recognizes the impact that her school had upon her success.
“South Meck is a school that has very competent staff and very challenging classes. The students and teachers truly care about our education,” Lizbeth says. “This has been a great thing for my family too, because they’ve been learning with and from me.”