Olympic gold and silver medalist Laurie Hernandez spoke in the Main Lounge on Oct. 23 during the Student Activities Board’s (SAB) “SHU Speaks” event.
The Old Bridge, N.J. native, who is famously nicknamed the “Human Emoji,” presented an in-depth look at her personal life and how gymnastics has shaped her into the person she is today.
Hernandez began telling stories of her journey from being a young girl watching gymnasts on television at age 5 to becoming one of them when she qualified for the 2016 Rio Games.
Hernandez said she has gone to a number of universities, high schools and business events telling her story. She said when she was approached with the idea of coming to Seton Hall, she immediately said yes.
“Because I’m a Jersey girl, I grew up understanding what Seton Hall was and the university that it is,” Hernandez said. “My whole childhood, and even now, has been faith-based. So knowing that it’s their values as well was really important to me.”
Hernandez said she experienced a number of setbacks during her journey, but they only motivated her to come back even better than before. Despite injuries to her wrist and knee, she said she still fed off of her passion for the sport of gymnastics and the never-ending support of her family.
Deana Gifford, a sophomore education major, attended the event and said she became a fan of Hernandez during the USA Gold Medal Run at the Rio Olympics.
“I liked how funny she was,” Gifford said. “It was like talking to a friend.”
Hernandez described her passion for gymnastics and how it has propelled her to this point in her life.
She said her passion for public speaking made her comfortable telling her story across the nation and that Seton Hall gave her a different feel in public speaking. “The response at Seton Hall has been great,” Hernandez said. “It seemed that they were really listening and taking in everything I said.”
Shannon O’Brien, a sophomore education major, said that Hernandez’s bubbly personality really opened up the audience. “Through her positive attitude, it was easy to see that she was grateful for all the opportunities she’s experienced,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said Hernandez’s overall message of courage and overcoming obstacles left an impression on her and everyone in the audience. Hernandez said she feels that being courageous is an important part in life when in the face of adversity.
“You can’t help being scared,” Hernandez said. “Having courage means that you are scared, but you choose to do it anyways. I think it’s a big leap of faith that everybody has made at one point in their life.
“Go with what you’re passionate about,” she said. “If something throws you off track, don’t think that this isn’t your calling because you decided to go down a different road because that’s what life has given you. Just change your plans on how to get there, not the goal.”
Ronald Castaneda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.