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First Generation Law Student Organization Co-Founder Adriana Hernandez ('22) on Navigating Law School as a First-Gen Student

As a first-generation American herself, Adriana Hernandez ('22) seeks to improve the lives of other first-generation individuals. As co-founder and treasurer of the First Generation Law Student Organization (“FirstGen”), she is focused on enhancing the educational experience for students who are the firsts in their families to attend law school, but her efforts extend far beyond that. Allison Tirres, associate dean for academic affairs and strategic initiatives, says, “Adriana is both a dedicated student and a caring volunteer in her community. When she was in my Immigration Law & Policy class, I had a chance to learn about her work helping immigrants apply for naturalization to become citizens, including assisting them with the difficult language and civics requirements. Her work with FirstGen is just one example of how she brings a spirit of public service and care to everything she does.”

Being first-generation has shaped Hernandez's identity. Her parents came to the U.S. from Mexico almost 30 years ago, and she is the first in her family to graduate from high school and college, as well as the first to attend professional school. She is the oldest of her siblings, and when they arrived in the U.S., her parents did not speak any English, so she didn't have many people to turn to for help, which is what inspired her to help others and to study law. Hernandez realized that she wanted to become a lawyer early in life. To her, “They [lawyers] felt bigger. They had power. They had knowledge. They were able to do so many things. That longing never went away.”

A primary way Hernandez assists others is through her work with Pastoral Migratoria, a section of the Catholic Church that assists immigrants. For over seven years, she has aided people looking to naturalize by helping them fill out forms or study for their naturalization exam. She remembers when the Trump administration came into office and there was a huge increase in applications; this only further reinforced her dedication to helping others.

Hernandez worked to found FirstGen, because there is a need to support classmates who do not have any lawyers in their families. She knows firsthand, “Going through the process alone is very confusing. Sometimes you need to know you're not alone, and that there are other people who can help you.” Hernandez also recognizes that diversity in the law profession is growing and that means that there will be more first-generation students who can benefit from this organization.

Another major reason she gives for founding FirstGen is an awareness that law school is a much different experience than college. Hernandez considers the culture shock greater in law school because, though the legal profession is becoming more diverse, law schools still are not as diverse as colleges. As an undergraduate at Saint Xavier University, she had a graduating class with far greater Muslim and Latino populations, which she found easier to relate to, as they faced similar issues. Many came from immigrant families, so she was able to speak about her experiences with people who understood them. Through FirstGen, she hopes to continue to encounter other people who have a like upbringing and are navigating professional school.

FirstGen's plans for the current academic year include hosting events that bring in alumni to discuss their

experiences, as well as planning programs to help students relax before the craziness of finals. She also hopes to reach out to high schools and colleges to find other first-generation people interested in going to law school and provide advice.

Hernandez encourages law students, especially first gen students to speak about whatever problems they might be having and ask whatever questions they need answered. “Even if you were able to

navigate college, you still can come to law school totally confused, and that's totally normal. Professional school is a completely different beast.” Based on her own experiences, she advises others not to be afraid. “One thing that held me back and still holds me back is being too timid to make a jump–whether that's interacting with a different group of people or applying for a certain job–and focusing on the worries that come with it. I've missed opportunities because I decided not to explore them.”

For her future, Hernandez’s top goal is to find where she fits within the larger legal community. “My idea of what a lawyer is has grown over time, and I'm still trying to find my place, my niche. I know what areas of law I'd like to practice—immigration and art and museum are two that interest me—but finding my exact place [in the legal profession], being able to help [others] and being comfortable within that place, that is something I'm still searching for.”