April is Month of the Military Child, and FIU Veteran and Military Affairs (VMA) is celebrating the more than 350 military family members represented among the university’s growing VMA community.
Among these Panthers are sisters Lizette and Arianna Hernandez, who are both set to graduate this year with bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and are interested in pursuing careers in public service in governmental agencies. Arianna and Lizette currently lead the Student Veterans of America–FIU chapter as president and board member, respectively, where they are focused on engaging FIU’s military-affiliated students on campus and connecting them with the broader FIU community. Arianna is the first military child elected president of the organization.
Born of Puerto Rican parents, Arianna and Lizette spent much of their childhood in North Carolina, as their father was stationed at Camp Lejeune, and later Orlando, after he completed his service. Arianna was the first to move to Miami to attend FIU, followed by Lizette, who transferred here in 2022.
In an interview with FIU News, they shared how their lives and career paths were shaped by their experience growing up with a father in the Marines, Cpl. Ariel I. Hernandez:
How did having a military parent shape your childhood? What were some challenges and some highlights?
Lizette: While I did not experience the constant moving around the country that most military kids experienced, I saw how the military was the foundation for my family – a community that we had supporting us, even if we felt alone. It is not always easy having a military parent, because you see your parent every day go through the effects of putting their life on the line for their country. It taught me to care even more and to have more empathy for these individuals.
Arianna: I found that having a military parent pushed me to be different in a good way. It fostered this ability to adapt and a resilience to keep going. It made me a true daughter of a Marine. As a child, it was difficult to understand how much the military influenced my life. It was troubling not understanding why my dad had to leave and other kids parents stayed. But my mom made those moments special by planning fun girls nights for the three of us that she called "sleepovers" when he had to leave.
How did this experience guide your career goals and your path to FIU?
Arianna: My father always told me, ‘Always do good and good will come back to you.’ Growing up, I saw a lot of injustice and questioned why it existed. My friends and I experienced bullying in school for being different, and also I saw violence committed within the community. My dad would compare it to his experiences in the military and said he would stand up for people. Little did he know, he fostered a desire in me to defend others who do not have the voice or same opportunities as me.
Lizette: This experience taught me to continue the fight for what is right in a systemic way. I wanted to study criminal justice because I wanted to bring justice and a voice for those who usually are not heard. I chose FIU because its program and resources were perfect to help me reach my goals.
How does having a military parent make a difference in your college education?
Arianna: As a military child, I felt like I never had a mind to give up. My father would help us practice sports growing up, and he would motivate us by telling us pain is temporary. So, when I had an important exam, I knew the strain of studying would be a temporary pain, but the lasting benefits of the good grades and knowledge was the mission. Now, I kind of treat everything as a mission. I always do my best because it is the least I could for the opportunity that my parents and family have provided for me.
Lizette: I was taught to be strong and resilient, and I have made that my creed when I came here. The assistance that I get from the military office has also helped me majorly and helped me adapt to this environment.
How has the military community at FIU supported you?
Arianna: Words cannot describe how much the military community at FIU means to me. It was a family I never knew I had. I remember the first day I walked in and how they received me with wide open arms. They have been the ones who gave me ceaseless laughter, shoulders to cry on, and pride in being a military child, especially of a Marine.
Lizette: It made me feel not so alone in my experience. Talking to other veterans and other dependents has brought back to me the familial feeling of being a part of a diverse group. They have also helped me discover new paths in my career when talking about their own goals in life and the opportunities they have.
What is an important lesson you learned from your military parent?
Lizette: I learned to be able to take care of myself. I was taught not to rely on anyone for anything and that I can be who I need to be and more. The work ambition that was instilled in me has brought me to achieve many of my goals.
Arianna: The most important lesson I learned from my father is to not limit your own self and be a person with integrity. Not only by being good in front of others, but by doing good when no one is looking. He would always be that little push I needed to be great and still is.
The Office of Veteran and Military Affairs at FIU serves a population of more than 1,200 veterans, active-duty service members and military children as well as over 4,700 alumni. The team assists students with understanding and accessing military benefits; offers professional development, educational and social events throughout the year; and much more. Visit vma.fiu.edu to learn more.