U.S. women’s gymnastics Olympic gold and silver medalist shares that with vulnerability comes empowerment
By Denisse Villegas ’25
On April 25, Laurie Hernandez visited Lafayette’s campus as the 2023 Senior Speaker. Hernandez, a second-generation American of Puerto Rican descent, is known for winning a gold medal as part of the 2016 U.S. Olympic women’s artistic gymnastics team, as well as a silver medal on the balance beam event that same year. Also the youngest winner of Dancing With the Stars during its 23rd season, Hernandez is now pursuing a new venture as a first-year college student at New York University Tisch School of the Arts.
The event was organized by the culture, media, and entertainment committee of Lafayette Activities Forum (LAF), along with sponsorship from the Class of 1963 Guest Speaker Fund. “Although the event does mention ‘senior,’ we wanted this year’s speaker to attract a large and diverse number of people from all class years,” shares Sarah Smith ’24, committee director.
At 22 years old, Hernandez also was a speaker to whom our students could relate, adds Melissa Dalrymple, associate director of student involvement.
“I really liked the fact that we had a speaker who is our age and is experiencing some of the things that us college students do,” Andrea Rivera ’23 says. “She was very inspirational talking about her athletic journey and transition into college.”
Hernandez spoke to President Nicole Hurd, who moderated the event, about how it felt to win a gold medal at the Olympics, the empowerment that comes with vulnerability, how she deals with imposter syndrome, and more. She also talked about how her gymnastics experience influenced her passion for mental health advocacy. “I think my mental health journey kick-started when I shared my story in gymnastics, with coaching, and processing that,” she shared.