Students arrived on the University of La Verne campus Monday toting backpacks and hot coffee, some still sleepy-eyed from months of summer relaxation and others raring to go for the first day of t...
The University of La Verne’s second annual LEAD Conference sends a clear message to those in attendance: Follow Your Dreams!
The University of La Verne’s second annual Latino Education Access and Development (LEAD) Conference Saturday, September 21 was all about empowering young Latinos.
With a high-impact lineup of speakers delivering powerful messages, the 1200 or so in attendance received cutting insight from giants in science, entertainment, education, government and other industries during breakout and panel discussions and a book fair.
One of the day’s most riveting messages came from emcee Bel Hernandez, who has distinguished herself in the Latino television world.
“I was always fighting because there was a lack of Latinos when I was growing up,” Hernandez said. “If we don’t see ourselves reflected we don’t feel like we belong, but we do.”
The entertainment mogul and pioneer said she struggled to find her place in Hollywood during a time when many Latinas were not even given a fair chance to audition for roles or other opportunities in the entertainment industry.
After years of working hard to promote herself and other Latinos, Hernandez is now the executive producer and co-host of HOLA! LA, the first TV talk show with a Latina point of view on English-language networks airing on KCAL9 and KCBS2.
But the “Godmother of Latino Hollywood” was just one of the speakers at the event which drew its audience from throughout Southern California.
Also on hand were La Verne President Dr. Devorah Lieberman, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano and NASA astronaut Jose M. Hernandez.
One of the key messages of the day was the value of an education, and especially a degree beyond a high school diploma.
“The only thing you will never, ever lose… you can lose your health, your wealth, your friends, and position, but you never lose your education,” Napolitano said.
Napolitano has achieved much as a politician despite having only a high school education. She advised the crowd that they could be where she is in half the time with an education that reaches beyond 12th grade. An advocate for education, Napolitano encouraged the students in the audience to always ask questions and above all else to dream, believe and achieve.
President Lieberman spoke about the value of helping others.
“What we’re here to do in this community, and on this planet, is to help others succeed,” she said. “The more you can hear others’ stories, the more you can help them succeed. The more they can hear your story, the more they will help you succeed.”
Jose M. Hernandez, the astronaut, said he fully appreciates the value of encouragement. It after not one, not two, not even five, but 12 tries that Hernandez was accepted into the NASA astronaut program in 2004. In doing so, he became a pioneer, the first migrant farm worker to enter the program.
Though his family traveled from Mexico to work in agricultural fields throughout California much of the year, Hernandez’s parents refused to have their children working in the fields on school days. He said they understood the value of education and instilled the belief of the importance of an education in their children.
“Without an education you do not have anything,” he said.
It was after watching the Apollo 17 mission to the moon that Hernandez told his father that he was going to become an astronaut.
His father sat him down in the kitchen and told him that if he wanted to achieve his goal, he would have to follow a simple recipe made up of five ingredients: identifying and deciding exactly what he wanted to do and recognizing how far he was from the goal; understanding where he was and where he wanted to go; taking no shortcuts; getting a good education; and putting great effort into his education and then his career.
He now holds bachelor’s and masters degrees in electrical engineering and is the first migrant farm worker to journey into outer space.
“There are so many things that have not been done and it is up to young men and women to do them,” Bel Hernandez said. “Look at it and say, ‘Why isn’t there something like this?’ It’s up to you to do it and you can do it. You just need to want to. You just need to follow your passion.”
Latino students and their parents were encouraged to seek out college as an option, not just a far-off dream. Presenters on several panels shared their stories and successes as well as their struggles. The goal was to show students that no matter what their circumstances, success is within their reach.
Such strong and focused exhortations made the LEAD Conference, La Verne’s Day of Community Empowerment, a success.