Willie Hernandez, Chair of the SVUDL Board and its Legal Advisory Committee, took a few minutes out of his day as Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Hewlett Packard Enterprise to share why he is so committed to bringing together leaders from the Silicon Valley legal community to help SVUDL students realize their dreams of becoming successful future professionals.
How does your life story relate to the mission of SVUDL?
As a first-generation college student, I grew up with a limited understanding of both college and the professional world. It was through the experience of debate in high school that I saw the impact of being able to think critically and to communicate more effectively.
High school debate helped me navigate in school and my professional career. In fact, those same debate skills propelled me throughout my whole journey, so I have a personal connection to debate because it is the activity that transformed my professional life.
How does debate impact someone over the course of a lifetime?
Everything they do in debate matters. The skills they learn – critical thinking, writing, argument and effective communication – are skills that a person draws on for their entire life. No matter what path a student pursues, it is these skills that will help propel them to success.
What makes SVUDL unique?
Our value proposition is what makes us different than every other organization out there.
Most other programs are set up to help students achieve a milestone: studying for the SAT, preparing for college, or offering help with a specific part of their life.
Those are important goals but they are singular milestones.
At SVUDL we teach students core skills that they, in turn, then carry inside of themselves for the rest of their lives. Now they can propel themselves in the future. That’s the true long-term benefit: carrying these skills forward for life. That is what is unique. We have changed their lives forever.
What are your hopes and dreams for the organization’s future?
My hopes and dreams are to reach more students and elevate their life outcomes.
We want our students to elevate their life outcome to a point where they attend and graduate from college, become financially stable for themselves and their families, and become leaders in their own community and at work.
The skills they learn through debate enable their success, no matter their path.
Why are you so committed to the success of Words to the Wise?
The event allows our students to demonstrate their argument and communications skills to the public so that people can experience first-hand what the students are doing to advance themselves. They can see the powerful skills they are developing. We are confident people will step in to support them.
We’ve seen our students argue moot court cases in front of the 9th circuit. On this night we will watch our students debate US policy regarding arms sales to foreign government against industry experts. This is an opportunity for us to show the public how the skills our students learn through debate are transferrable to real world sophisticated settings.
It is not just sitting in a classroom arguing with each other. Debate prepares them for a political debate, a presentation to an executive staff of a company a sales pitch, and anything else requiring a person to communicate and lead. It prepares them for life.
Why do you hope other companies, law firms and even individuals will support the event?
The support is critical because it means that we get to reach more students. I want people to see the connection between their dollars and the number of kids we can serve. That’s what it boils down to – the reach of the organization. We know the impact is real. We just need to make our program available to more students.
SVUDL serves a very diverse population. Why is this important for the broader professional world?
It comes down to helping kids see what’s possible for them. When they look up and don’t see people that look like them, it’s easy for them to draw the conclusion that those are not careers that are available to them. That’s how their opportunities become limited.
It’s important for young students to see that the skills they are learning can propel them into professions. It is equally important for them to meet diverse professionals so the students can see its possible for them, too.
SVUDL provides students access to the professional world so they can see what’s possible, particularly what is possible with the skills they learn through debate. SVUDL also connects the students to professionals who will mentor them to help them navigate paths through college and into professional careers. These resources are invaluable and can change a student’s trajectory.