This summer, Nadia Hernandez will be the first alum from Nimitz High School to graduate with a military scholarship in recent history once she completes her education at the University of Wyoming. Her military journey began when she was first introduced to the Nimitz JROTC as a middle school student. For her, it was love at first sight.
“I had the opportunity to see one of their drill ceremonies while touring the campus in middle school, and they all looked so sharp. I wanted to be structured like that,” she says. “All of my family (members) are immigrants from Mexico, so having never seen or experienced anything like that sparked my interest.”
Upon entering high school, Hernandez met with her counselor to learn more about the program and was officially sold on the idea once she realized she could earn a physical education (PE) credit. However, the program turned out to be so much more for Hernandez. She recalls how shy and intimidated she was her freshman year but credits Nimitz JROTC Master Chief Donald Shaft for being the person who initially helped bring her out of her shell.
“He saw how scared I was, so he started having me give presentations in class and check attendance to work on my public speaking,” says Hernandez. “Master Chief Shaft is the one who first gave me an opportunity to build my confidence.”
By her senior year in 2019, Hernandez was captain of the JROTC academics team and says that experience was a major factor in her growth and helped shape her into the person she is today. Having this leadership role gave Hernandez a new outlook on the program and military as a whole.
“Everyone has a story. The military is so people-centered, you have to have an open mind and let go of judgements,” she says. “You never know what other people are going through, and you have to be conscious of that, which is an underrated part of the military.”
When speaking about the type of leader she aims to be, Hernandez says that Nimitz JROTC Lt. Trevor Smalls serves as one of her biggest inspirations.
“I always try to emulate the type of leadership Lt. Smalls exhibited with us,” adds Hernandez. “He commands any room he walks in, and everyone respects him. I wanted to be for others what he was for me.”
Lt. Smalls served as a mentor for Hernandez and saw potential in her early on. She credits him for being the person to open her eyes to more opportunities in the military post-high school, personally taking Hernandez to fill out scholarship applications for college.
“I’m first-generation, so I didn’t know anything about college,” she says. “Lt. Smalls told me I could get better job opportunities with a college education, and he was right.”
It wasn’t long before the University of Wyoming extended to Hernandez a scholarship which covered her housing expenses and education. She says that being in college in a state so far away from home has taught her to be an adult, become more responsible and to always keep pushing.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” adds Hernandez. “But when things get hard, I keep going. Each day is a new opportunity to achieve something new, so even if you have a bad day, keep pushing.”
Cover photo taken by Roger Clark [ Laramie, Wyoming]