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Holladay Journal

Cottonwood High student honored for leadership, community service

Mar 07, 2023 03:16PM ● By Julie Slama

Cottonwood High senior Ivette Hernandez recently was honored for her leadership and service with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Leadership Award. (Photo courtesy of Daysi Hernandez)

A Cottonwood High senior was recently honored for her leadership and service with the University of Utah Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Leadership Award. 

Ivette Hernandez was one of 12 students across the state who was selected for the honor.

“I got an email that said I won an award; I was excited,” she said.

After Hernandez was nominated by a Salt Lake Community College employee, she and others wrote essays sharing their experiences, advice and actions they chose to love and support nonviolence when encountering intolerance or hate. It fit with the week’s theme, “Choose Love Over Hate.”

“It was easy to write because I just love serving. I wrote about how I’m serving my community with people who would normally be discriminated,” she said.

Hernandez detailed her service with people with special needs. She has partnered with a woman who has Down syndrome and since September, for a couple hours every week, they’ve spent time painting, dancing, playing bingo and doing other activities.

“I love to do this kind of service because I know this is a group that gets discriminated and bullied, but every week, I choose to show them patience, love, and acceptance,” she wrote in her essay.

She also volunteers monthly with the Utah Food Bank.

Her essay included how her family was discriminated against when they moved from California into their neighborhood.

“When I first moved to the area, we were the only Latino family and my house will always get TPed (toilet papered),” she said, adding that it stopped after they mounted a security camera on their house. 

Hernandez also knew she could be discriminated at school.

“At middle school, there was a girl, and she asked the vice principal if he was discriminating against her because she was like Latina, and was told yes,” she said.

Her brother has been called discriminating names and “people have said hurtful things to me, have unfairly treated 
me, or have physically hit or pushed me,” she wrote in her essay. “Even then I cannot say that I hate them. I guess it is because I choose to feel more love for others over hate. I have been raised to be kind by serving and showing love.”

Hernandez wrote that “these incidents make me feel upset and sometimes at a loss of hope.” Yet, she reminds herself to “to stay positive and hope that a change of heart is always possible.”

Through it all, she has excelled. The National Honors Society member plans to study pre-med in college with hopes of being a pediatrician.

“I just try to find the good side of people,” she said. “It helps to help other people.”

Hernandez has put herself in others’ shoes. When a new student arrived at Cottonwood, “she knew nothing of English so I offered to help translate for her in that class and we became really good friends.”

Her counselor, Amanda Calton, said Hernandez is inspiring.

“Ivette is bright, driven, and consistently challenged herself throughout high school by taking some of the most rigorous courses Cottonwood High offers,” she said. “AP (advanced placement), CE (concurrent enrollment) and honors classes were constants in her schedule; with a 3.8 GPA, Ivette excelled in these advanced classes and still was able to pursue outside interests beyond school.”

At the awards breakfast at the U’s alumni house, she was honored with a plaque and some swag in front of her parents. A week later, she received an acceptance letter from the U, welcoming her as a student. 

This spring, she has a U of U clinic externship with her medical assisting class.

“I’m excited that I get to learn how to help make a difference,” she said.