As a Spanish native speaker from California, Frida Hernandez, a 17-year-old Halifax County High School senior, has always adapted to her surroundings learning English in pre-K and acclimating herself to Halifax County after moving here from the western state.
Now she is gearing up to take on a new challenge with lots of help on her side.
She has been accepted into Amherst College in Massachusetts and has received the Gates Scholarship, a feat given to less than 1% of those who apply.
Her family, who joined her for a signing signifying her commitment to attend Amherst College to study chemistry and then chemical engineering at HCHS on Tuesday, is more than proud, and she appreciates all that they have done, as well her teachers, in pushing her to this moment.
“For (Chemistry teacher Lanette) Spencer, she is definitely part of the reason I love chemistry, and just a huge thank you to all of my teachers like (English teacher Beth) Layne. They’ve all been very supportive during the process of applying for this scholarship and applying for college. (band director Dominic) Stephens has always been that backbone that was there,” said Hernandez.
She also wanted to thank her family for always rooting for her from the sidelines and lifting her up whenever she got frustrated.
Her love for chemistry began when she took dual enrollment chemistry with Spencer.
Before she always veered towards science subjects, but she was looking into possibly studying forensic biology or forensic chemistry. When she didn’t like biology, she knew if she didn’t enjoy chemistry she was going to have to look into a different subject completely.
But, after taking chemistry, she knew right away she wanted to continue to study it, and she eventually dropped the forensics side of it and decided to pursue chemistry then chemical engineering.
She enjoyed chemistry so much she volunteered in Spencer’s chemistry class at Danville Community College over the summer as a lab assistant mixing chemicals, weighing items and setting out materials.
Not only did it allow her to immerse herself more deeply into a subject she enjoyed, but she was able to get a refresher while listening to lessons.
Other volunteer work and extra curriculums under Hernandez’s belt include playing tenor saxe for two years and being a drum major for two years for the high school band and volunteering in medical records at Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital as well as at Kids Kollege at The Prizery.
Even with her academics and extra curricular activities, she knew it was important to receive some type of financial help for school.
So the summer before her senior year she began to crack down on applying to colleges and scholarships.
She reached out to QuestBridge, a “national nonprofit based in Palo Alto, California that connects the nation’s most exceptional, low-income youth with leading colleges and opportunities.”
“That’s an example of her initiative that she started before her senior year even started,” said Layne. “She didn’t wait for anyone to come to her.”
But, Hernandez admitted that Stephens did nudge her along the way.
Either way Layne described her as a mature student who’s work was done “as perfect as she could make it.
“She inspired me to be a better teacher,” said Layne.
Spencer shared similar sentiments saying Hernandez is “one of those students who makes teaching worthwhile.”
Speaking about Stephens, Hernandez said he put his trust in her from the very beginning of her move to Halifax County, and pushed her to be a better person.
Her family, she said, haven’t always been able to help with academics, but they have helped support in other ways, and in applying for schools, Hernandez knew she had to find ways to help them financially with college.
With being one of 300 scholars chosen from a pool of over 36,500 applicants receiving the Gates Scholarship, Hernandez will have her undergraduate education paid including tuition, fees, room, board, books and transportation.
That money for transportation also is a key piece Hernandez is glad that she will have when moving to Massachusetts.
She is already grateful for the opportunity to come home, and her sister, Nathalie has already said she plans to call every day.
“We’re really close,” Hernandez explained.
Not only will she miss Nathalie, but also her brother Angel and younger sisters, Luna and Vanessa, her parents, Maria Villanveva and Delfino Hernandez and her honorary grandmother, Cecilia Long.
Long started off as Villanveva’s English Langugage Learner teacher, but eventually became family, and she’s just as proud of Hernandez.
“She cried she was so happy,” she added.
Her whole family is proud of Hernandez, and just knows that she will be just as successful in her next level of education and plan to continue to support her along the way.