When she was a kid, Presidential Scholar Naomi Garcia-Hector and her family would volunteer with a nonprofit that provided services to the homeless.
“From a young age, I remember feeling deeply saddened when I saw a homeless person being ignored by average folks,” Garcia-Hector said. “It was like they were invisible, didn’t matter and were somehow different. My parents told me then, ‘Instead of focusing on the problem, look for a solution.’”
Raised in Tampa, Fla., by a Puerto Rican mother and English father, Garcia-Hector has always been aware of the diversity of American citizens.
“My grandmother moved to the U.S. as a single mom and didn’t speak any English. I can only imagine how hard that was for her, but she knew she needed to do it for a better life,” Garcia-Hector said. “I think of her journey and how I might be able to help others make that transition more easily.”
Though Garcia-Hector had plans to be a doctor heading into high school, something changed.
“As much as I wanted to become a doctor, I began to see our country in a different light,” she said. “My parents are a great source of wisdom and reason in my life. From the dinner table discussions of world events to their lessons on trying tough things and sometimes failing, I began to realize that maybe I should do more.”
Inequities that arose because of the COVID-19 pandemic showed how flawed some of our country’s systems are, Garcia-Hector said. So she decided that by focusing on public policy instead of medicine, she could make greater positive change in the world by helping immigrants as well as the homeless.
It was a happy accident that brought her to Atlanta — a meeting with some family friends who are professors at Georgia State.
“Once they told me about the strength of the public policy program, the diverse student population and the professional opportunities available in downtown Atlanta, I was sold,” she said. “Getting to be part of the Honors College is just icing on the cake.”
While Garcia-Hector has her sights set on bringing real change to the world someday, she’s ready to make the most of college life right now.
“At Georgia State, I hope to get a meaningful education, develop great relationships and make a lot of good mistakes in a safe environment where I can learn to get better,” she said. “It’s all about perspective: Happiness comes in seasons, but joy lasts forever.”
To learn more about the Presidential Scholarship, Georgia State’s most prestigious and valuable academic award, go to https://honors.gsu.edu/the-presidential-scholarship/.
Story by Boyd Baker, photos by Meg Buscema