For Myriam Hernandez, who graduates in communications from Westminster College Saturday, commencement exercises will not mark the start of a new life or the beginning of a dream.
Instead, it will mark one more step toward a continuing goal: to find her way home.It won't be easy. Her home is in Chile, and she wants to return there as a trained journalist.
Her dream has been tempered by realism. The press in Chile is government-controlled, and the government's control tactics are feared. So for now, she will continue to pursue her education in America.
Hernandez, 25, came to Utah from Chile five years ago. She might have been educated in her native country had it not been for her strong democratic sensibilities and a run-in with her town mayor.
A top high school student, she was chosen to work under a government program administered by the mayor. Under the program, students were given higher wages than city workers in order to pay for their college educations. Hernandez thought the plan was unfair to the workers, so she declined the offer. Her response did not sit well with the mayor.
Soon after that episode, a friend, a Maryknoll priest from New York, suggested it might be better if she went to the United States for her education. He and a Park City dentist, whom she had met through missionary work among the poor, recommended a Salt Lake school with a good English-Spanish program. She won a scholarship to Westminster and entered its English as a second language program in February 1983. When she finished in June, she enrolled in the college's four-year communications program.
As a Westminster student she has been a chronicler of Chilean events and issues for classes and in the school newspaper. Recently, in her final weekly column on international issues, she wrote of the growing women's movement in Chile, which is uniting men and women against government oppression.
Hernandez said her inclination to work for justice began early. As a teenager, she worked every summer as a Catholic missionary in the countryside, where people are very poor. "I do not call them peasants; that is not good enough for them," she said.
A local newspaper published one of her poems when she was 17. "It was about the people who are greedy, who forget about those who are in need." The next summer her impoverished friends told her that the long poem, along with her picture, were in their windows and their hearts.
Last month, when Westminster College celebrated its first International Peace Week, Hernandez had an opportunity to talk about the turmoil in her country.
She spoke of the grief and frustration among Chileans since General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte took power in 1973.
"Chile has suffered. Fifteen thousand Chileans have been killed. Many people are in exile or have disappeared," said Hernandez.
She recalled that her disillusionment with the government began on Sept. 11, 1973, when a radio report said that Salvador Allende, Chile's Socialist president, had committed suicide.
The truth came out later. Allende had been overthrown in a bloody coup. Pinochet, a trusted general of Allende, killed the president and bombed La Moneda, the presidential palace.
That year, Hernandez saw some of the early tactics of the government. She was visiting an elementary teacher near her home, in Chillan, Chile, when a military jeep stopped down the street at another teacher's house.
She saw the teacher walk out of the house with his little girl in his arms and his mother-in-law close behind. The soldiers told him to give the girl to his mother-in-law. When he did, they shot him.
The tragedy changed her way of looking at the world. "I began to develop a social awareness."
But hope is a frequent word in Hernandez's Spanish and English vocabularies. "I looked to the United States as a land of hope. My favorite person is Abraham Lincoln." She marvels at the political process in the United States.
Hernandez feels very "comfortable" in America, but she misses her home in central Chile, south of Santiago, where tradition and Catholic roots are deep. She misses her parents and her four brothers and three sisters.
She plans to visit her family in September. But she won't stay. "I had hoped to go back to Chile after I finished school. But I still feel helpless to help there."
She is sure that if she returns as a "journalist" she would risk her life and put her family in danger.
Instead, she has applied to Boston University and hopes to obtain a master's degree in international communications. She is also planning to write a book about her country.