Hernandez To Graduates: Your Degree Can Show You The World
He has protected presidents and a former pope, met Nelson Mandela and other world leaders and traveled the world.
“If a small town kid like me with a couple of degrees from Highlands University can stand with the president of the United States of America and work in the White House keeping this country safe, anything is possible,” said Hector Hernandez, an El Paso, Texas, native and 19-year veteran of the U.S. Secret Service.
Hernandez, the keynote speaker at New Mexico Highlands University’s commencement ceremony May 14, said he’s proud to be a Highlands alumnus.
He challenged graduates to set their goals high, to never stop learning and to excel in whatever profession they choose.
“This day is a special day because you’re about to earn a degree that can open up so many doors for you,” Hernandez said. “It can show you the world.”
Highlands President Jim Fries said that between its main campus and centers in other cities, the university was conferring an estimated 748 bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“You have beaten the odds. You have persevered,” Fries told graduates. “You are our future.”
Hernandez, currently the special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service Tulsa Resident Office, graduated from Highlands with a bachelor’s in political science and sociology in 1987 and a master’s in public affairs in 1989. While at Highlands, Hernandez was a heavyweight wrestling national champion.
Hernandez served on the presidential protection details of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
He said it was an awesome feeling to be part of the team protecting the president and he was often called upon to take on a leadership role during presidential visits to foreign countries.
“I was in charge of military, foreign country security, foreign military, White House staff, embassy. Everybody was looking at me, and again, I’m just a small town kid from Highlands University, but they were looking at me. If something went wrong, I had a plan,” he said.
Hernandez told graduates their futures depend on what they end up doing with their degrees. He said he often interviews people who want to become Secret Service agents.
“I’ve had plenty of people with degrees from major schools — Princeton, Harvard, Yale — and guess what. They don’t make it because they don’t present themselves well,” Hernandez said. “They don’t come with confidence. That’s one thing that Highlands gave me, confidence, and it taught me a sense of loyalty. It gave me a sense of leadership. It gave me a lot of pride, and it strengthened my character.”
By Martín Salazar. © 2011 Las Vegas Optic. Reprinted with permission.