Teaching success

Published 11:16 am Tuesday, May 29, 2012

From left, Cindy Hernandez, her son, Anthony, and husband, Dan, celebrate Anthony's graduation from Harvard University last Thursday. Anthony, an Austin High School alumnus, was one of three graduates to give a commencement speech. — Photo submitted

Local Harvard grad plans to pursue career in education

Anthony Hernandez has accomplished much since his days at Austin High School. A 2008 graduate, Hernandez attended Harvard University for the past four years, graduating this past week where he was also one of three students to give a commencement speech.

“It’s very exciting,” said Anthony’s mother Cindy, who along with her husband, Dan, attended the ceremony. “We’re both very proud. We always knew he was very accomplished.”

Anthony, who came to Austin in the middle of his fourth-grade year, is the first Austin graduate to attend Harvard since 1952, or so school officials said, according to Cindy. For Anthony, the chance to go to Harvard was icing on the cake in his college search.

Email newsletter signup

“When I initially applied to Harvard, I didn’t tell many people about it,” he said. “I knew how competitive this process can be.”

Harvard is known for its stringent admissions policy. Cindy said Harvard only let about 7 percent of its applicants into school the year Anthony was accepted, while Anthony thinks only about 5 percent got in this past year.

Yet Harvard meant Anthony could go to school out of state, something he was looking for in a college. What’s more, it was a chance to experience a new world of opportunities, from new classes to new people.

“I’ve always enjoyed school and meeting new people,” he said.


While Anthony originally wanted to pursue political science — he interned and volunteered for Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, and did a little volunteering for U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in high school — he soon found himself drawn to education policy after taking a class about the politics of American education.

“So many families of this country depend on public education as a way to better themselves,” Anthony said. “… Yet in so many ways, and in a lot of different places and schools, we as a country were failing.”

Anthony spent the summer of his sophomore year working at a charter school in Minneapolis run by the Knowledge is Power Program. The program focuses on helping students from diverse, under-represented backgrounds succeed in high school and preparing for college.

Since then, Anthony has focused on becoming a teacher, though he also studied Chinese government for a time, even visiting the East Asian nation during his studies.

Yet one of Anthony’s most valued lessons in college was the contradictions that form peoples’ lives, something he learned taking one of Harvard’s most famous classes from one of Harvard’s most famous professors. Anthony said the Rev. Peter Gomes — a “long-time character” at Harvard, as Anthony describes him — made the course “A History of Harvard and Its Presidents” an incredible experience. Gomes, long noted for his somewhat rebellious nature as a gay black Baptist preacher, who at one time was Catholic, was an inspiration for Anthony and many other Harvard students before Gomes’s death in 2011.

Since every Harvard senior is invited to write a commencement speech which could be selected, Anthony went back through his notes, seeking the interesting themes and lessons from the contradictions in Harvard’s history to share with his fellow students.

“It was such a memorable experience in so many different ways,” Anthony said of the class.

Now that college is behind him, Anthony will teach first grade at another KIPP charter school in Washington, D.C. under the Capital Teaching Program, where he will work for the next three years. One day down the road, Anthony hopes to become more involved in educational policy as a leader in the field.

But that’s a ways away, and Anthony is excited for his first year teaching. He credits his mother’s time as a teacher, as well as his experience in Austin Public Schools, for his passion.

“I think a lot of what shapes my desire to become a teacher comes from having great teachers in Austin Public Schools,” Anthony said. “For people who teach, and for people who believe in education, there’s nothing more powerful than to have a great teacher. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of those at Austin Public Schools.”