Sunday, July 22 , 2018, 8:35 am | A Few Clouds 68º


Two Hancock Students Named to Phi Theta Kappa All-California Academic First Team

Jeremiah Hernandez
Rie Waldon

To say Allan Hancock College students Jeremiah Hernandez and Rie Waldon have defied the odds would be an understatement. Both students have received a major recognition for overcoming tremendous obstacles.

Hernandez and Waldon have been selected to the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society’s All-California Academic First Team for their grades, leadership and community service.

Only 30 students in the state received the recognition out of the more than 2.4 million enrolled in California’s 113 community colleges.  

“I finally processed it in the middle of the night and the true extent of what the award means,” said Hernandez. “It’s definitely a tremendous honor and a bit overwhelming; although, I don’t feel like I deserve it.”

Hernandez deserves even more recognition considering where he was a few years ago. His first year as a full-time student in 2006, he did not pass a single class. Over the next five years, he failed several more classes and was dismissed multiple times from the college for academic reasons.

“I was battling addiction for years and never took school seriously. But in 2012, my daughter, Savannah, was just eight months old, and I realized I needed to get my life in order,” said Hernandez. 

When he returned, Hernandez started by taking one class each semester, gradually increasing his course load. Hernandez also joined the college’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) program, which provides financial assistance, support and encouragement for eligible low-income students.

Since 2012, Hernandez has raised his cumulative grade point average from 0.4 to 3.78.

“After going through my recovery from addiction to coming back to school, this state recognition is a major motivator. It has taken things to a whole new level,” said Hernandez. 

He will graduate from Hancock this spring with an associate degree in liberal arts: social and behavioral sciences. He has already been accepted to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; CSU-San Bernardino and CSU-Monterey Bay.

Hernandez is still waiting to hear back from University of California schools. He plans to pursue a degree in sociology and a career in education.

“Counselors, especially Veronica Sánchez, have been there to support me even when I was struggling. Vice President Nohemy Ornelas, everyone in the EOPS/CARE & CalWORKs office and so many other people at Hancock go out of their way to help students. They’ve made me want to work in education as a counselor, so I can give back in my own way,” said Hernandez.

Waldon has an inspiring story herself. She moved to the United States in 2012.

“I lived in Tokyo, Japan for more than 10 years and moved with my husband to Lompoc in 2012,” said Waldon. “It was so scary, especially because I did not know English.”

Waldon first enrolled at Hancock in 2012 in noncredit English as a Second Language (ESL).

“I wanted to be able to do everything on my own without having to rely on others to help me,” recalled Waldon.

The next year she registered for credit-ESL classes. The rest, as they say, is history. She will graduate this spring with an associate degree in liberal arts: arts & humanities and a 4.0 grade point average. 

Waldon praised several programs for helping her succeed, including College Achievement Now (CAN) and its director, Petra Gomez.

“Hancock has changed my life,” said Waldon. “Everyone has always been so welcoming to me and helped me feel comfortable since the first day. I would never have received this award if it wasn’t for all the great people at the college.”

Waldon hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree in global studies from UC Santa Barbara. One day, she hopes to open a sake tasting room on the Central Coast.

Waldon and Hernandez are both active members of the Alpha Gamma Sigma Honor Society at Hancock. The two have made quite an impression over the years on Mary Alice Majoue, the AGS advisor. 

“With Rie, I have rarely seen a student with such dedication and determination,” said Majoue. “Jeremiah has infused his heart-felt passion for assisting others to improve their lives, particularly those coming from a similar background as his.”

Last year, Daniela Calderon became Hancock’s first student named to Phi Theta Kappa’s All-California Academic First Team. The successes of both Waldon and Hernandez has resulted in another first: it is the first time two students from Hancock have been selected to the First Team in the same year. 

“It is very impressive that out of all of the community colleges in the state of California, Allan Hancock College has two students who qualified to be in the top 30 students,” said Majoue. “In other words, one-fifteenth of the students in the top tier in the state come from Allan Hancock College!”

Hernandez hopes his story will inspire others to take advantage of all the services, programs and staff at Allan Hancock College.

“The possibilities are there for everyone,” said Hernandez. “We may all fall short in life, but you can’t give up. You have to just go for it. I want to help other people keep going and imagine what’s possible.”

The Community College League of California sponsors an awards ceremony where each member of the All-California first, second and third teams receive medallions of honor and a certificate. The ceremony will be in Sacramento March 24, 2016.

During the awards ceremony, a handful of students will be named to the Phi Theta Kappa All-American Community College Scholarship Team.

The mission of Phi Theta Kappa is to recognize and encourage the academic achievement of two-year college students and to provide opportunities for individual growth and development through participation in honors, leadership, service and fellowship programming.

Gina Herlihy is a public affairs and publications technician at Allan Hancock College.


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