Chicago native Delilah Hernandez always had an interest in going to college, she just felt that she didn’t know enough about how to get there. When she graduated from Ogden International High School in 2017, she decided to go where many of her high school peers were headed and completed a semester at UIC.

That first semester was tough. Delilah felt a bit overwhelmed, mainly by not feeling in the right head space to be in college at all. She decided to make the difficult decision to take a semester break to regain her footing. Knowing that she wanted to return to college, Delilah had a lasting impression from her close friend whose family members had graduated from Harold Washington College. She was impressed by their lifestyle – happily living as teachers with doctoral degrees, and she felt that if they could start their journey from a community school, why couldn’t she?

Delilah received the Star Scholarship and transferred into Harold Washington. She quickly felt that there was a lot of support to help her figure out what she wanted to do with her life. Being a Star Scholar “helped motivate me to go to school and helped me feel secure, especially financially,” Delilah explains.

In fact, she cites the scholarship as one of the biggest reasons she chose to attend Harold Washington. She also enjoyed that the program at HWC would allow her to be able to stay motivated by knowing that it would only take two years to complete her associate degree; she liked being able to give herself goalposts and markers along the way.

As far as what to study, Delilah ended up figuring out what she wanted to do along the way. Since she was interested in nursing from her time at UIC, and she had always really enjoyed biology in high school, Delilah initially decided to pursue biology. However, she realized that once she was involved in school groups and activities, particularly Student Government Association, that her interests were more aligned in student support services rather than solely the realm of biology or medicine.

Delilah notes that, “the support that I got from Ellen Goldberg (the Director of Harold Washington College’s Transfer Center) was really helpful, and my advisor, Rashaan Russell- the energy she gave me from day one was super positive and super inspiring and I felt comfortable asking her questions about how she found her [own] way.” Her story and openness helped Delilah find her path as she recalls, “I felt I was in a place where I could ask anything and be safe and be heard.”

With two of her mottos in life being to “reach for the stars” and “try your best to get where you want to be,” Delilah set her sights on the east coast. She took to heart some advice she encountered during her time at Harold Washington College: “If you never ask a question, then [the answer is] a no, but if you do at least ask, you have options.”

With this in mind, Delilah took the Transfer Leadership class which helped her figure out the transfer process, specifically exploring a transfer to a four-year program at Cornell. She was able to work with the teams at HWC and Cornell to figure out that the best fit for her would be sociology. Almost all of her credits transferred for her continued pursuit of the sociology major.

Now, as a 21-year-old junior at Cornell, Delilah is hoping that post-COVID, the upcoming semester will have even more opportunities. In fact, she is now even considering taking an Intro to Law class. Looking back, Delilah says that going to community college like City Colleges of Chicago prepared her to “feel well and adequate” to belong at Cornell. She states that unfortunately, she didn’t feel that way before – not only the feeling of belonging in higher education, but also that of belonging in a major university setting like Cornell. She used to be too timid to reach out to others and pursue certain opportunities that she perhaps prejudged as out of reach, but now she doesn’t! She loves who she has become and feels comfortable speaking to all kinds of people now.

Her advice to her younger self and to other potential incoming students at City Colleges of Chicago is to “remain curious and use the services on campus.” Delilah says those things were the main difference in her experience – she always wanted to learn more and was always opened to pushing herself further to achieve even higher marks, and to join and participate in certain groups or clubs she wanted to explore. “Stay curious!”


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