Name: Perla Fernandez
Alma Mater: Shawnee Mission West H.S. '00; Rockhurst University '04 (B.A. in Global Studies, French, and Spanish); Georgetown University '06 (M.A. Latin American Studies)
Current city: Falls Church, VA
I am a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State. I am currently in Bulgarian language training in preparation for departing to Post. I will be working at the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria as a Consular Officer. My role will be to provide emergency and non-emergency services to American citizens and protect our borders through the proper adjudication of visas to foreign nationals and passports to American citizens.
Receiving the HDF scholarship meant a huge sense of relief to me or alivio. I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school and although my mother was proud of my achievement, she was not in a financial position to help me pay for my college education. I was working a part-time job and studying around the clock to maintain my academic scholarship but I was quickly burning out and my mental health was suffering. I had to persevere to prove to myself that I could also become my family's first college graduate but at the same time I was physically and mentally exhausted. The HDF scholarship allowed me to focus on my studies and freed my mind from the worry of paying for tuition. After receiving the HDF scholarship my anxiety levels decreased and I was able to utilize my mental energy to excel in college and graduate Summa Cum Laude. I would not be where I am today without the HDF scholarship, and for that I am eternally grateful!
I've always considered myself an introvert and being in front of crowds was torturous. Hence, I was never the popular girl in school but I was very diligent in my studies and worked harder than most to achieve my goals. My experience as an HDF scholar gave me the boost in confidence I needed. Being in a reception along with other HDF scholarship winners who were there because of merit and their own determination made me feel like I was part of a community of like-minded individuals. At that moment, I learned that being smart and hardworking is something to be proud of and that being brainy is pretty cool! I've used this confidence that was born during the HDF scholarship reception to mentor students young and old and to instill in them a sense of pride in themselves and their achievements.
I will leave you with some bits of advice that I hope you will take to heart. 1. Don't ignore your mental health. You need to take care of your body and mind and work to end the stigma associated with mental health treatment. 2. Always believe in yourself and in your abilities--you are more than enough. 3. There is no higher power than the power within you to persevere! 4. Be true to yourself. Be your most authentic self, with all your quirks and peculiarities! 5. Give back to your community so that we can all rise together. 6. Don't forget where you come from (tus raices/your roots), who you are, or where you are going. 7. And lastly, if all else fails in the face of adversity just remember what Dory (forgetful blue fish in animated movie Finding Nemo) said, "Just Keep Swimming!"