As Maria Hernandez participated in Manhattan High’s graduation practice Friday at Bramlage Coliseum, some of her biggest fans sat in the top row watching the proceedings.
A year ago, Hernandez’s family was evicted from their Longview, Texas home. With no easy way to care for her, family members made the difficult decision to send Maria to live with her older brother, Ralph Romig, here in Manhattan during her senior year of high school.
“We were evicted from our home and she had no place to go to school,” her mother, Wanda Smith, said.
Smith, along with Maria’s sister and brother-in-law, Tamra and Jonathan Jones, and Maria’s niece and two nephews are in Manhattan after making the 10-hour drive to attend her special day Sunday. Approximately 400 MHS graduates will receive diplomas during ceremonies at 2 p.m. at Bramlage Coliseum.
Smith, who lives in the Kansas City area, said Manhattan has been good to her family. Romig first moved to Manhattan to attend Flint Hills Job Corps, and Tamra graduated from MHS in 2001 while staying with Romig.
“Tamra had such a good experience in this school, we thought it’d be great for Maria too,” Smith said.
Tamra said her sister has handled her senior year very well despite the difficult circumstances behind her arrival. “She’s really mature,” Tamra said.
Smith acknowledged this school year has been hard for her. The last time Hernandez and Smith saw each other was Christmas, when Maria saved up enough money to take a bus trip home. “It was more difficult for me,” Smith said. “She’s my baby.”
Hernandez had a huge adjustment to make going to a much larger school where she had no friends. Her old school had 47 graduates in last year’s graduating class; MHS will have approximately 400 graduates.
“I came here and I was like, ‘Why is everything so big?’” she said.
Hernandez said she still only knows about a handful of people. This has helped her put more focus on her school work than on socializing.
“I learned how to be more independent and not rely on people so much,” she said.
Hernandez plans to become a flight attendant while taking online classes for her basic college courses. Her ultimate goal is to major in speech pathology at the University of Texas – Dallas.
Hernandez said her motivation to go to college is seeing how her parents and other siblings have struggled without a college education.
“I’ve seen how hard it is to make it without a college degree, so I just want to go and make something of myself,” she said.
Sunday won’t just mean the end of Maria’s secondary education; it will also represent her success in a situation that could have caused failure.
Her mother said this is an exciting time compared to their situation from a year ago. “I’m so proud of her,” Smith said. “At that point in our lives, she could’ve dropped out of school.”
Hernandez said it is an amazing feeling and somewhat shocking that she’s made it this far. “I got through one of the biggest things in my life, so that’s very cool,” she said.