USF Student Body President Wins Top Honors

The presentation by Cesar Hernandez on immigration policy takes top honors at an international event in Dubai.




By Vickie Chachere

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (April 7, 2011) – USF Student Body President Cesar Hernandez went to Dubai last week determined to make a powerful statement about American immigration policy not fully realizing that he was in the midst of a prestigious international competition that would pit him against great young minds from universities like Cambridge and Yale.


But when Hernandez, a dynamic speaker known for setting a crowd on the edge of their seat was done challenging the audience to think about how the millennial generation will handle immigration challenges, he’d topped all other students in the event’s policy category. A large crystal trophy and a laptop computer were the spoils he lugged back to Tampa.

“I didn’t even know it was a competition,” said Hernandez, who is just weeks away from graduation. “All I did was present my research. I own it. It’s mine.”

Hernandez was one of 13 University of South Florida students led by Office of Sustainability Director Christian Wells and Office of National Scholarships Director Linda Lucas to attend the biennial conference which drew students from more than 300 universities in 140 countries. The event is designed to connect students from across cultures to share ideas and solutions on global challenges.

“I was in the audience when he gave his presentation, and remember feeling chills come over me a few times listening to him,” Wells said. “He is so passionate about his work on immigration and social justice, it’s inspiring. Several times during the talk the audience erupted in applause and, afterward, he had a long line of new friends from around the world.”

For Hernandez, the event was an opportunity to speak on an international stage about a topic that is close to his heart and consumes much of his scholarly time. The son of parents who fled Guatemala, Hernandez has filmed a documentary exploring the immigrant experience in America and lobbied for passage of the Dream Act, proposed federal legislation which would create a path for citizenship for students who brought to the United States as small children and now lack immigration status as they near adulthood.

“I feel an obligation to contribute to creating awareness about current immigration issues,” Hernandez wrote in introducing his project to the forum.”Thousands of families suffer each year risking their lives relocating from various third world countries. What drives and motivates an individual to come here? What did they encounter?”

The documentary shows immigrant stories from New York City, Tampa Bay, Orlando and the U.S.-Mexico border towns of El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez. Its aim, he said, is to not only educate people and policymakers about what drives immigration but discuss alternatives and possible solutions to the illegal immigration. The documentary is a collaborative effort between with AMIGOS organization and the Seraph Foundation.

Hernandez’s win – now drawing him attention from graduate programs worldwide – also is bringing new attention to USF’s standing as a globally-engaged university.

“USF’s strong presence at the conference, with 13 students in all, makes an important statement that USF is a global university,” Wells said. “And, with the new Patel School of Global Sustainability up and running, I’m very pleased that USF is quickly developing a universal presence that features students committed to creating sustainable, healthy communities.”

Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.