Thursday, October 29

Senior signoffs: Julia Hernandez reflects on empowering messages learned at UCLA

Senior Julia Hernandez grew up playing soccer in Spain before moving to the U.S. to play at a community college. Hernandez transferred to join UCLA women's soccer as a sophomore, and went on to score 12 goals in 64 games as a Bruin. (Niveda Tennety/Assistant Photo editor)

My road here has been a very unconventional one.

As a high school senior who barely knew any English, I decided to leave Spain to follow my dreams. From growing up in Spain, to a semester at a community college in Florida, to a one-day official visit to UCLA – I ended up spending 3 1/2 amazing years on this special campus.

And the story of those 3 1/2 years is the story of what the people in this special place have brought me. My story is mainly the story of my team – the story of a bunch of girls leaning on each other and creating a culture of excellence, support and togetherness that went far beyond the soccer field.

My story is also the story of UCLA Athletics and how it has shown me my worth as a student, an athlete and, most importantly, as a woman. Finally, my story is about the UCLA community and how being surrounded by people who consistently strive for greatness has shaped me into the best version of myself.

To my teammates, thank you for being my home away from home, for loving me through the rough patches and always having my back.

From you I learned that you have to fight for what you believe in. I learned that to be truly happy, you have to be yourself. I learned to care for other people. And I learned not to judge, because everyone is going through something.

You also taught me that my worth as a person goes far beyond my identity as an athlete. I learned that worth is not measured by how many minutes are played or how many goals are scored.

Your worth is measured by the people you surround yourself with – what you are willing to do for them and what they are willing to do for you. And just looking around the locker room every day, it is clear that we are all worth a lot.

Finally, I learned that it is OK to not be OK. I learned that mental health is one of the most important and undervalued things in our lives, and I learned that it is okay to reach out for help. So thank you. Thank you for asking me how I was. For caring about how I felt. For pulling me out of the darkness.

From my team, I learned that the bonds created on this campus will last forever and that the stories we share will be with us regardless of where we go.

To my coaches, thank you for giving me a chance to come to this amazing school where I could grow, develop and learn from a group of smart and brave women. Thank you for fostering an environment in which we could thrive, not just as student-athletes, but as women.

Thank you for letting us take a knee, for letting us wear rainbow laces, for letting us volunteer in the community and march for women’s rights. Thank you for developing leaders who are not afraid to speak up and fight for equality.

Hernandez will graduate in June with a degree in applied mathematics. The Spaniard's academic record has earned her back-to-back spots as a second-team Pac-12 All-Academic honoree. (Alice Naland/Daily Bruin)

To UCLA Athletics, thank you for allowing me to fulfill my dream and for giving me all the tools to succeed on and off the field. Thank you for allowing that 12-year-old Spaniard, who was told that futbol was only for men, the chance to prove otherwise.

From UCLA Athletics I learned my worth as a female athlete. I learned that 12-year-old kid deserved more than having to deal with misogynist comments; deserved more than having to take three buses to go to practice; deserved more than sacrificing her time and her body for no money or recognition.

From UCLA Athletics I learned what equality as a female athlete looks like, and I learned that we have to fight for it outside of college sports – because equality is far from being a reality.

To the UCLA community, everything that my teammates, coaches and UCLA Athletics have taught me has been reinforced and fostered by you. Because at UCLA, the greatest lessons I have learned are definitely not related to my applied mathematics major.

The courage, ambition, perseverance and the continuous fight for equality across the board shown by students and faculty have been a motivation and an inspiration.

At UCLA I learned to learn, I learned to listen and I learned to speak up, supported by the best public university in the U.S. and by the best student body in the world.

I am extremely grateful for all these lessons and bonds that have shaped me into who I am today. I am extremely lucky that I ended up 6,000 miles away from home surrounded by greatness.

And I am extremely thankful that I can forever call UCLA my home. Once a Bruin, always a Bruin.

Hernandez played for UCLA women’s soccer from 2016-2018.

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