Thorton, CO, 25 March 2015 | 02:00 PM America/Chicago Student Refuses to be a Victim Chooses to be an Advocate Instead We recently sat down with nineteen-year-old high school senior and current State Farm Youth Advisory Board (YAB) member, Veronica Fernandez-Diaz. She explained to us her passion for education, her drive to motivate others to fulfill their potential and what success looks like for her. Most of all, this young adult revealed how she is determined to make a difference as an advocate for at-risk students. Originally from Mexico, Veronica has been living in Colorado since she was six. Defined as an undocumented, low-income Latina, she relates on a personal level to many of the students she feels compelled to help. What is your inspiration? Veronica: While taking a Criminal Justice course, I realized any student living in a low-income community is deemed an “at-risk” student. Growing up as an at-risk student myself, I am able to understand the difficulty in overcoming the obstacles of one’s background. I refuse to become a victim or let any personal issues get in the way of my goal to solve issues. I understand the community’s challenges from a personal perspective and provide a unique point-of-view. As the Command Chief, in charge of discipline and morale for the Mapleton Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), I wanted to do more than just tell cadets what they were doing wrong. Several of the cadets who had to see me for discipline issues were at-risk youth who did not know how it felt to have unconditional support. I choose to be a voice to undocumented students. I am determined to help those who are going through the same things I have. The odds may seem stacked against us but I still do not see us as victims. Despite the hardships, we still have the opportunity of an education. This pushed me to create a Tutoring/Mentoring project for my fellow at-risk students, showing them education is the best way to overcome any situation but more importantly, they are not defined by what surrounds them. What do you see as the biggest challenge for helping at-risk students to be successful? Veronica: Building up a student’s self-esteem who has always been told their capabilities are less than the rest is the toughest challenge to help them find a path to success. Every time I encounter a cadet who refuses help, I can’t turn my back. I feel compelled to show them I care and believe they are capable of change. Still, it must be understood how hard it is to regain hope and confidence in our ability to be successful when peers, teachers, family, or society may see the future of at-risk students as inevitably mediocre. What do you hope to do post-college? Veronica: I realized I not only wanted to make a difference in my community or in my nation, but also in our interconnected world. Feeling empathy is no longer enough to prove I care. If I have such strong feelings towards injustice, then I have to take action. Through The State Farm Youth Advisory Board, my goal is to make my deepest belief a reality—to empower youth to take the reins to change the world. One of my favorite quotes from Cesar Chavez really defines my view of service. “When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So, it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of men we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life.” What do you hope to do post-college? Veronica: Right now, I am definitely more focused on just getting to college first without having to worry about my financial situation. At this moment, I am leaning more towards International Affairs or Human Development, but I seem to like too many things to be sure! I always see myself continuing to make some sort of change, but I hope my efforts become global. I also hope to find a balance between policy change and interactive change within the communities affected.