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Keynote speaker Hernandez tells his life story as struggling student turned educator


Former Sociology Professor Paul Hernandez explains how his life choices led him out from gang participation and into a Ph D. while in the Bovee University Center Rotunda Room on Oct. 10.

Paul Hernandez, author of "The Pedagogy of Real Talk" and former Central Michigan University sociology professor, was hosted as a keynote speaker in the Bovee University Center Rotunda 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10.

The event was hosted by Multicultural Academic Student Services as a part of Hispanic Heritage Month. 

As a "middle-school drop-out with a Ph.D.," Hernandez spoke to students and faculty about his experiences as a student who was looked down upon by teachers and how that impacted the rest of his life. 

Hernandez described his childhood growing up in poverty in Los Angeles, being raised by a single mother, and entering a gang at the age of 5. He dropped out in middle school, and didn't continue his education until he entered community college years later.  

"Administrators and teachers often spoke of me as a thing rather than a person," Hernandez said. "Society didn't treat me like a young man. It treated me like a thing to get rid of. It filled me with hatred and bitterness." 

With his own background in mind, Hernandez began College 101, a program geared towards high school students at risk of dropping out to ensure they are college ready. The program's priority is to engage and connect with students so they may feel a sense of belonging on college campuses, as well as visualize what their future could be like there. 

Manistee senior Brittney Drake volunteered with College 101 as a mentor for under-privileged high school students. 

"It lets them know that even if they come from an under-privileged background, they still have the capability to come to college," Drake said. "A lot of the kids I mentored were amazed just being on a college campus, because they had never experienced that before."

Hernandez has earned his doctorate in sociology and a bachelor degree from California State University. He said he pursued sociology because he wanted to understand the root of all issues and learn how to solve them.

"I started talking about my experiences because of my students," Hernandez said. "People needed to hear life isn't worthless, even when it feels like it is."

Hernandez hopes students learn something positive from of his talks, whether it be motivation, inspiration or happiness. 

"This talk gave me one more boost to keep pushing through," said Kyle Bartosiewicz, graduate student from Manistee. "Whenever you hear of someone that has been in a lesser position then you, it keeps you motivated."