“What Gettysburg has taught me to do is live in the moment and experience all that is around—even when there are mishaps. I’ve learned to soak it all in, take a challenge head on, not back down, and act immediately,” said Ashley Fernandez ’16.
It’s impossible to remember all of the late-night conversations with your roommates, the hours spent in the library during finals weeks, the Springfest concerts, or even the dozens of chocolate chip Servo cookies. But what students are left with are specific moments, moments filled with memories—the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of Gettysburg College—that transcend the residence halls and classrooms.
For Ashley Fernandez ’16, her Gettysburg story is best told as a collection of remarkable moments that together make up her undergraduate experience.
A Political Science and Public Policy double major, Fernandez has certainly made the most of her four years at Gettysburg. She has been involved with the Black Student Union, the Latin American Student Association, Gettysburg African Student Association, the Eisenhower Institute, and the Admissions Office. But when asked to reflect on her Gettysburg experience, Fernandez first remembers the people and the moments that changed her life.
Fernandez was in the midst of a two-week college tour when she first visited Gettysburg. With so many college visits in so little time, Fernandez found it difficult to distinguish one impressive school from another. But there was something special about Gettysburg, something that set it apart from other campuses she explored.
“Gettysburg College stood out to me because of my tour guide. He talked about the different types of diversity on campus and how it impacted his experience at Gettysburg,” said Fernandez. “He talked about his time in an authentic, genuine manner, and I really appreciated this transparency. That tour made my college decision easy.”
Thankful for the gift this tour guide gave her, Fernandez decided to pay it forward. She now works as the multi-cultural coordinator with the Admissions Office, overseeing all of the overnight visits for students from different backgrounds.
After moving all of her things into her new room in Stine Hall, Fernandez embarked on her Gettysburg journey. Her first year was—like it is for many—an exciting time. New faces, new classrooms, a new home. So much change is enough to intimidate any student, but Fernandez credits her First-Year seminar course with giving her the confidence she needed to succeed at Gettysburg.
“I took The Bush Administration: Approach to the War on Terror, Torture, and Prisoners of War with Prof. Warshaw during my first semester. It is by far one of the most exciting classes I have ever taken,” she said. “We spent a lot of time looking at different institutions and identifying problems, and this ultimately helped spark my interest in the Political Science major.”
The rest of her first year was spent making new friends, getting involved on campus, and exploring the different academic departments at Gettysburg. What was once a strange, unfamiliar campus became a home that Fernandez began to love.
She specifically remembers Get Acquainted Day and talking to prospective students about the Gettysburg College community. Fernandez was almost done with her first year and was excited to share what she’d learned.
“I was able to articulate why I chose Gettysburg, why I loved it, why it was the right school for me, and why it can be the right school for them, too,” she said. “I could understand their nervousness but I could also tell them that everything was going to be okay. In fact, if they chose Gettysburg, it was going to be a really fun ride.”
Fernandez’s Gettysburg ride took a whole new turn during the spring of her junior year when she decided to spend a semester abroad in Morocco. Leaving behind everything and everyone she had come to know and love at Gettysburg, Fernandez embarked on a whole new journey—one that came with its own set of challenges and rewards.
“My host family encouraged me to take advantage of all the different places, food, and opportunities. We spoke no English in the house because they wanted me to learn the language so badly. I found that their enthusiasm helped me. I had to learn to be comfortable with embarrassing myself.”
And while challenging at times, Fernandez was thankful for her Gettysburg education—an education that helped her navigate the difficult situations she faced abroad.
“Gettysburg taught to me trust my instincts, and this was so important in Morocco. The lack of familiarity was the hardest part—if something was going on and there were no instructions being given, I didn’t always know what to do. I had to trust what I knew.”
Upon her return to Gettysburg in the fall, Fernandez began to identify ways in which the Gettysburg community could grow. Together with the Black Student Union and the Latin American Student’s Association, Fernandez organized a Town Hall meeting to discuss issues of diversity and the racial climate at Gettysburg. Adhering to her initial goal of improving the College community, Fernandez and her peers set out to start an open and honest dialogue about inclusion on our campus.
“We have a community that’s willing to listen—listen and reflect critically about different aspects that make up our campus,” said Fernandez. “Being able to talk about it in such a free and open space was really empowering.”
Thousands of members from the Gettysburg community attended the meeting and many more watched the live stream coverage from across campus.
“We were very intentional with how we structured this meeting—from the language we used to the issues we covered,” she said. “We wanted to make sure we capitalized on this moment so students of all backgrounds can feel like they can be proud of their Gettysburg community.”
It is this community of friends, faculty, and mentors that Fernandez will miss most after graduation this May.
“Our community, for such a small place, our community is amazing,” said Fernandez. “Gettysburg College has a spirit about it, and it’s contagious. It makes you want to be a better person. It makes you want to keep exploring and experiencing new adventures.”
And that is exactly what Fernandez plans to do. After graduation she is traveling to Israel as part of the Inside Middle East Program with the Eisenhower Institute. When she returns, Fernandez will start her job as a recruiting consultant with the global recruiting firm, SThree. Fernandez will work in their financial branch, Huxley Associates.