Shamarah Hernandez

Shamarah Hernandez photo

Shamarah Hernandez '12


I'm from central Florida, about an hour from Disney World. I was raised with an understanding that education was going to be a big part of my future. Mom and Dad grew up in Jamaica and Trinidad, respectively, and neither of them, nor their parents, nor their parents' parents, etc. went to college for a Bachelor's. At some point before I was born, they decided I would be the first.

I grew up with the expectation that my future wouldn't be like my parents' past. My mother made learning really fun, and she told me that particular kind of fun was the kind that would make my life easier down the road in terms of independence, empowerment, and financial freedom. So, I went all in. We didn't know exactly what, but my family and I knew that my goal was to something big, something special with this whole school thing.

I remember my guidance counselor telling me that we’d be getting junk mail from a bunch of colleges, and she warned us not to put too much stock in it. "Like if you get a letter from MIT, for example," she said. Everyone laughed, including me. When I actually got one, though, it kind of scared me. The first thought I had was, "what if I actually got in? No one would even believe it."

I remember telling my parents about the "Reach, Match, Safety" school model that we learned about in school, which would help us organize our school applications. When I described MIT as my Reach, Dad interrupted me and asked, “Why are you putting your dream school out of "reach"? If you want to go there, and God wants you to go there, you'll go there. End of story." This was five years ago.

Now? (There are times when I still can't believe it, but) I can actually say that I went there. Me! I'm a young woman who once laughed at the idea of being on MIT’s radar, who felt silly even thinking about applying for admission. Those seeds planted way back in 2008, in 2000, in 1989 when I was still in Mom's belly, and when God was still creating the heavens and Earth … they have grown and produced fruit. Fast forward to June 2012: I was the sole Black woman to graduate with a degree in my field that year. The gratitude, the tears, the elation and the knowledge that I am blessed beyond belief – these are the things that I carry with me everyday after my chapter as an undergraduate at the Institute. But what makes me the proudest is that while I was the first in my family to graduate from college, I can proudly say that I am not the last: after seeing me walk across that stage, my father built on his 2-year degree and is now the proud recipient of a Bachelor's!