Georgia Gwinnett College information technology major fights her way out of despair to graduate top of class

Ruby Hernandez

Ruby Hernandez 

When she was just eight years old, Ruby Hernandez, 21, of Lawrenceville, was diagnosed with the rare and incurable autoimmune disease that causes excruciating flare-ups. Any mild accumulation of sweat triggers the painful outbreaks, and the symptoms are significantly worsened with weight gain. It sentenced her to an acutely frustrating struggle to stay healthy without provoking the disease.

“It was a soul-crushing cycle of me becoming motivated to lose weight and exercising, then becoming bed-bound due to the crippling pains triggered by sweat, and finally giving up until the next time that I would eventually restart the cycle,” said Hernandez. “I quickly became depressed, unmotivated in school, and I resented my life.”

When she was 16, Hernandez underwent major skin graft surgery to reverse some of the permanent damage that the flare-ups left on her body. It helped, but only for a short time. Four months after the surgery, the disease came back worse than ever. By age 17, daily asthma attacks and heart palpitations added to her misery. The accumulation of afflictions was overwhelming, and she sank into a very dark place.

“At this point in my life, I would spend the entire day in my room pondering my own suicide. I felt zero control over my own body and life, and I just wanted it all to end.”

Relief came through education. Despite the consistent, maddening recurrences of health issues, Hernandez never stopped applying herself to her studies. Her sister was a Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) graduate and had nothing but positive things to say about the school, so Hernandez set her sights on going there as soon as she could graduate from high school. She and her sister would be first-generation college students, and she knew how hard her parents had to work to make that happen.

“I am the daughter of a father who did not even have the privilege of finishing middle school, and a mother who first moved to this country at the age of 19.”

Hernandez would not take the opportunity to go to college for granted. The least she could do for her parents, she said, was work through her pain and get into GGC. She also took it as an opportunity to have some control over her life. She focused all her efforts on becoming a well-rounded student, and it paid off.

Hernandez will graduate from GGC this month with a 4.0 GPA, having earned a bachelor’s degree in information technology (IT) with a concentration in software development. She chose that particular field because it allows her to live outside the limits of her illnesses.

“Ever since a very young age, I have had to live my life within the limits of my many chronic and autoimmune diseases. With this being my reality, my leisure options have always been physically limited. Due to this, I naturally gravitated towards IT and soon became fascinated by all that it can offer the world.”

Hernandez thrived at GGC. She was named the 2021-2022 president of InTech, the IT student association. In addition, she and some fellow software development classmates founded and developed the Grizzly InternNET website, which allows GGC students and alumni to share their internship and entry-level job experiences with the GGC community, and she successfully completed two internships.

Most importantly, she took back control of her health during her time at GGC. Towards the end of her first semester, she stumbled on an article titled “What is the likelihood that you exist?” that explained how incredibly small the odds are that we exist.

“After all the numbers were crunched, it turned out that our chance of ever having been created is 1 in 102,685,000 – 10 to the 2,685,000th power – so basically zero,” she said. “Reading that article made me realize that I had spent my life being angry at the universe for making my life so hard instead of being grateful for even having one in the first place. I didn’t want to cry anymore. I didn’t want to feel sorry for myself anymore. I wanted my life to change once and for all – and I was going to keep fighting until it did.”

She found the Strong4Life clinic at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, where a health regimen was specially designed for her that included exercising by swimming, which prevented the awful pain she experienced from sweating. She dedicated herself to completing the program and steadily lost weight for five months. The clinic deemed her ready for weight loss surgery, and the combination of that and relentlessly sticking to her health routine helped her lose 140 pounds in one year.

The journey has allowed her to shed more than physical weight. Today, thanks to discipline, determination, and her GGC education, Hernandez is healthy and positive and looking forward to the next chapter of her life.

“Life can be unfair, and it will kick you around sometimes – but life is a privilege,” she said. “There will be times when you feel like you’re drowning in problems. But if you start taking control of your life in small steps, the rest will eventually follow. Cherish your life and make the most of it because once you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up. What do you have to lose?”

After graduation, Hernandez plans to move to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to pursue her dream career of becoming an IT business analyst.

Hernandez will join more than 650 students, who will graduate at GGC's commencement at 10 a.m., Wednesday, May 11 at Gas South Arena, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth.

Return to News and Events

View our News Archive by Year