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Erik Hernandez  

Student Speaker

It was a memorable field trip to UC San Diego during junior high that inspired Erik Hernandez ’19 to pursue an education on this campus. As the son of immigrants the first-generation college student from El Centro says attending the university on a Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship has allowed him to dream big without being burdened by student debt, which he says has been especially important because of his ongoing medical expenses for a disability. The American Bar Association has deemed him a human right’s hero for the founding of a humanitarian project named Erik’s Harvest, which successfully saved lives across communities in Zambia, Ethiopia, and Malawi. Erik plans to visit these communities in Africa soon after graduation from UC San Diego, and upon return, continue his education by enrolling at Harvard Law School and specializing in child advocacy.

He emphasized that he has cherished the diversity at UC San Diego and within the Chancellor’s Associates Scholars Program. “We could not have asked for a better environment for our intellectual and personal development,” Erik says. Highlighting this is Erik’s experiences studying abroad in Japan and participating in the University of California Washington Center (UCDC) program, a multi-campus residential, instructional and research center that provides UC students with opportunities to study, work, and live in Washington.

 In D.C., Erik worked with Congressman Jim Costa, receiving valuable advice from Chancellor’s Associate Caroleen Williams, who held senior positions in the United States Senate and House of Representatives for more than 20 years. Erik says the access he has had to dedicated staff and donors at UC San Diego, along with his mentor Tom Behr, “has also contributed to my overall success in this academic environment and has shaped my visions for the future I am working hard to make a reality; for that I am forever grateful.” Powerfully creating his own story as a child, disability, human right’s advocate, and being a disabled-transfer student, he shatters stereotypical barriers that perpetuate hierarchies of discrimination and contribute to marginalization, he quotes “Disability is not something we overcome, it’s a part of human diversity, it’s something to be tapped into” (Haben Girma). Erik is using his UC San Diego education to serve the people of the United States; and strengthen the legal framework to improve the lives of children in this country; while leading in global efforts to promote education and empowerment in underserved communities and disabled populations.