The Culmination of a Dream

Benedictine Alumnus becomes Marine Corps Officer

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Art Hernandez Marine Corps Commissioning Ceremony

Arturo Hernandez ’22 stood silently as a sergeant gave him the traditional first salute.

He was now an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

While that is quite an accomplishment for any young person in America, it was even more special to Art.

Growing up on a small farm outside Veracruz in Mexico, Art learned about faith, love and resiliency from his family. They were poor and did not have a car, so the family members rode a horse or bicycle to cover the 20 miles to town. One time, when he was 6 years old, Art and his father were riding their bicycles. Art was in front and kept looking back. Finally, his father gave him some advice that would carry him through his life.

“If you keep looking back you are going to fall and hurt yourself,” Art said his father told him. “Keep your eyes facing forward. Palante, siempre palante! Forward, always forward.”

Art’s father died two years later, leaving a wife and four small children. They would have to work hard to go forward, but they did. Art’s mother, Maria Villa, moved the family to the United States in search of a better life. At times she worked three jobs and only slept a few hours a night, all for the sake of her children. The children all set about making new friends, adapting to new customs, and learning to speak English.

When it came time for college, Art wanted to go to a Catholic college. He began taking classes at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas, but he knew he had found the right place when he discovered the motto at Benedictine College is “Forward. Always Forward,” based on a 19th century quote from Archabbot Boniface Wimmer OSB. A Benedictine Scholarship and a Student Government Award provided the means for him to come to the college of his dreams.

While at Benedictine, he excelled in both his academic pursuits and extra-curricular activities. He was a member of the College Republicans, the History Club and Ravens Respect Life and served as an officer in the Student Government Association. Off campus, he has been very active in pro-life issues and is a founding member of The Agape Project, a non-profit organization that teaches Natural Family Planning, mainly to the Hispanic community within the Kansas City area.

One of his proudest moments came in 2021 when he became a United States citizen. Then, in 2022, he was honored to be the featured student speaker at the college’s annual Scholarship Ball. He graduated in May and now he is a commissioned officer in the Marine Corps.

“You know, 13 years ago, Art didn’t speak English. Three years ago, he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. And a year ago, he wasn’t an officer in the Marine Corps,” said Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis. “But he has accomplished all of that and more. He is a great American success story!”

“The fact that Art (became a citizen and then became an officer) in such a small amount of time is a testament to his drive and the fact that when he sets his mind on something, he’s going to achieve it,” said Captain Kathy Casas, the Marine Corps Officer Selection Officer who had worked with Art through the application process and conducted the commissioning ceremony. “I think he is going to be a phenomenal officer.”

Art conceded that his journey had not always been easy, but support from family, friends and the communities at both Donnelly and Benedictine had helped him tremendously.

“I am deeply humbled at this moment and immensely thankful to everyone,” he said. “Along the way, I have found little mentors here and there who have helped me, in both my life’s journey and my Benedictine journey.”

“My hope, my dream, is to be an example to others who are thinking about becoming citizens of this great country,” Art said. “I hope other people who look like me, talk like me, see that it is possible to do great things in this amazing country.”

The sense of community at Benedictine College was evident in the large number of Benedictine College alumni, faculty and staff who attended the ceremony outside the World War I Museum in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, on Aug. 1, 2023. Two college presidents also attended, Msgr. Stuart W. Swetland, S.T.D. of Donnelly College (a former U.S. Navy officer) and President Minnis of Benedictine College.

“We have been with him on this journey over the last few years and we are all immensely proud of his achievements in the face of real adversity,” Minnis added. “We shared his joy back in 2021 when he became a citizen and are happy to be here as he takes another huge step in his life.”

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. Benedictine College is dedicated to transforming culture in America through its mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.