“I will never forget this. It has truly been an amazing experience,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez, a 2010 Walker Valley High School graduate, traveled north to compete for the Boys & Girls Club National Youth of the Year. She placed as runner-up.
The winner, Ramonia Dixon of Arizona, was awarded the National Youth of the Year and received a $65,000 scholarship.
“She is an amazing person and she will represent us at the Boys & Girls Club very well,” Hernandez said.
There were five youths who traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to compete for the title.
Hernandez returned to Cleveland on Thursday and was welcomed back by her friends at the Boys & Girls Club with a warm reception.
“Meeting President Obama and (Vice President) Joe Biden was really amazing. They encouraged me and all of us. Obama told me he never thought he would be president one day, but one day he wanted to make a difference and here he is the president. He told me I could be the first girl president if I put my mind to it,” she told her friends.
Meeting Golden Globe, Academy and Tony Award winner Denzel Washington was a major highlight of Hernandez’s trip.
“He was unbelievable. Very encouraging. He was not at all what you would expect a famous person to be like. He really encouraged us that it is way more important to give than to receive and he encouraged us to put our faith first,” she said.
Washington is a national spokesperson for the youth-focused organization.
By winning the city, state and regional title as Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year over the course of the last year, Hernandez has received a total of $60,000 in scholarships. She is currently attending East Tennessee State University where she plans to major in biochemistry.
In the few days Hernandez was in the nation’s capital her schedule was jam-packed.
“We received media training on Monday then we got to go on a scavenger hunt around D.C. and see all the wonderful memorials. It was amazing, I’d never been there before,” she said, claiming that the Lincoln Memorial was her “all-time” favorite.
During their memorable trip, Hernandez said the youth were showered with gifts including laptops, flip-video cameras, MP3 players, Nike track suits and tennis shoes, Tupperware and personal business cards.
“I just couldn’t believe how much they gave us. It was unbelievable. Like the gifts just kept on coming,” she said.
Other gifts Hernandez received were a U.S. flag pin and presidential M&Ms given directly from the president.
“He (president) told us to never lose sight of the American dream,” she said.
Hernandez said she also received a “kiss on the right cheek” from Washington.
“Which I haven’t washed off,” she joked.
Hernandez also had the opportunity to meet Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and 3rd Congressional District Rep. Zach Wamp.
“I will never forget this experience. The Boys & Girls Club just made my dreams come true. When you’re little, you dream about these things, but you never think that they might actually come true. I never thought I would meet the president, but I always wanted to. Now, my next dream is to take my brothers and sisters to meet the president,” she said.
Hernandez offered advice to her friends at the Boys & Girls Club: “I want to see all of you as the National Youth of the Year. I want to see all of you meet the president. If I can do it, you can do it.”