Meet Scholar Liliana Hernandez

Giving Voice to Dreams

Liliana Hernandez

Steppingstone Scholar, College Success Academy / Eighth Grader, Boston Latin Academy

Celebrating at Steppingstone’s Gala in 2016

Four years ago this November, then fourth grader Liliana Hernandez reveled in Scholars’ stories at a superhero-themed Steppingstone Gala. Sitting in the audience with her family, she watched one of her older brothers don a shimmering red cape on stage and share his dreams of college.

No less heroically, Liliana is now forging her own dreams as a Scholar, encouraged and applauded by her family, her friends, and her many Steppingstone fans.

If every superhero has an origin story, her own reflects how life transforming a Scholar’s experience can be. “Before I was really shy and would sit at the back of the class,” she says. “Steppingstone gave me a voice. They told me I have something to say.”

Looking ahead with confidence, the Boston Latin Academy 8th grader clearly sees college in her future. “It’s very important to me,” she says. “Extremely important.”

Urged by her mom to apply to Steppingstone, Liliana started in the College Success Academy while going to the Donald McKay K-8 School in her East Boston neighborhood.

Family is everything to Liliana

Liliana had quietly gone through her earliest school years. “No one would worry about me because I got good enough grades,” she recounts. She rarely felt challenged. When she began at Steppingstone, “I’d never been pushed so much.” She remembers sitting and staring at a math problem one day for what felt like ages, until her teacher kindly asked if she needed assistance.

Early on, “Steppingstone taught me that it’s OK to ask for help,” Liliana says. She’s come to realize that she doesn’t have to go it alone—and she can help others in return.

Thinking back, she appreciates most the way that advisors helped her to “open up,” as she puts it. Her advisors’ gentle push to get to know and talk with different people stands out as a favorite memory.

As much as she enjoyed her three summers in the program, she’s thrilled that Steppingstone is so much more. She knows that the community of support will be there for her right through college. “They’re always following you—like a family,” she says.

Her own family plays a huge role in her life. “My parents have been so supportive of everything that I’ve done,” she says. She relishes the bonds of trust and respect that they’ve nurtured. “My best friends are my brothers,” she adds. She loves how they all push her to stay positive.

Family day at the beach

Talkative, outgoing, encouraging, and, well, goofy. Those are just a few of the words her wider circle of friends might use to describe her. If a friend does something well, like getting their first A in a class, she’ll proudly celebrate them. She aims to spread love, knowing it’s something not everyone gets to feel.

Her East Boston neighbors can tell you about her “contagious” smile and laugh.

If there’s one friendly word of encouragement she’d have for future Scholars, it’s to embrace the opportunities that Steppingstone offers. “You know how you have this voice in your head that makes you hesitate?” she asks aloud. “Don’t let it stop you.”

Asked about her life’s dreams, she says she finds medicine “really fascinating.” At times, she imagines being in a government role and would love to learn its inner workings. She even thinks about being a criminal investigator.

“I don’t have a specific career in mind, but they all involve going to college,” she adds.

Liliana and her brothers

For now, in 8th grade at Boston Latin Academy, her favorite subject is a tie between Civics and Latin. As the U.S. presidential election unfolded, she enjoyed gaining a new perspective on how the process has evolved historically. Science also has a way of piquing her curiosity.

Outside of school, she loves writing poetry and playing soccer with her club teammates. She also devotes herself to immigrants’ rights. Even if the slow pace of change frustrates her, she keeps pushing for other families like her own to be a welcome part of the nation’s future.

These days, with everything going on in the political sphere, Liliana believes the world needs more leaders who “see everyone as a human being.” She realizes it takes “strong hearts and strong minds” for leaders to stand up for what they believe in. It’s something she tries to model.

In this season of thanks, she’s grateful to be blessed with so many things: her family, her home, her education, and her passions. In gratitude for all her opportunities, “I keep trying every day to do my best and help others.”