Class of 2020: Music, strong work ethic guide Steamboat senior toward bright future
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A few years ago, graduating senior Daniel Hernandez picked up a guitar during a crisis of faith with his family’s longtime church and taught himself to play.
“I was really sad, so I just turned to what I most love, music,” said Daniel, a Steamboat Springs High School honor student.
His guitar playing helped him find a new church where they welcomed him and his mother and brothers with open arms.
“For us, he’s a great blessing,” said Pastor Asas Fuentes of the Iglesia Apostolica de la Fe en Cristo Jesus of Steamboat. “To have this youngster play in our church gives us a fresh spirit to praise God.”
Fuentes said Daniel can often be overlooked because he maintains a quiet and calm demeanor. But don’t let that fool you.
“In a world of lots of extroverted people, he follows his own path and does what he thinks is right in the world of distractions,” said band teacher Wendy Dillon. “He’s a person with high moral integrity and character.”
Daniel’s father remembers telling him that he’d pay for guitar lessons, but Daniel told him not to waste his money, he would learn it himself. Now, Daniel is teaching his dad to play.
“He’s very responsible,” Daniel’s dad said. “When he wants something, he works for it.”
That included having to buy his own cellphone and whatever else he wanted as he grew up in Steamboat.
Daniel said his work ethic likely comes from watching his parents “come from nothing” as immigrants, to eventually running their own business. The honor student has worked off and on for his electrician father for years.
But Daniel admits it took years to feel comfortable in his own skin.
“In middle school I struggled with who I was, the way I looked. I wasn’t confident and didn’t have a true friend until I was in high school,” Daniel said.
That’s when Daniel started to bloom, playing the saxophone in the concert band, only to switch to tuba just because the teacher was desperate for tuba players.
“He’s an amazing musician,” said best friend Fisher Lindahl, a current student at Colorado State University. “Bass, guitar, alto sax, tenor sax … you can hand him something, and he can figure it out in five minutes.”
And recently, Daniel picked up the accordion in a nod to his Mexican heritage.
“Right now I’m working on Sierreno music,” he said.
Sierreno is a Mexican genre of music involving three musicians, usually acoustic guitar, guitar bass and accordion.
What few people know is that childhood cancer also helped shape Daniel in his road to adulthood.
“I don’t tell a lot of people,” Daniel said. “I was in and out of the hospital for three years starting when I was 4. I just remember being bald and really fat.”
He also remembers the pain of injections, and although he’s been cancer free for years, his yearly checkups still haunt him.
“I get very scared, but the blood tests are always good … so far,” Daniel said.
Another health scare his junior year sent Daniel to the hospital. His father said the years of chemotherapy damaged his gallbladder and the student missed a couple of weeks of school after surgery.
Still, Daniel managed to earn out a 3.9 grade point average and take AP courses and college courses. Eventually he won Alpine 2020 Latino-Hispanic Scholarship. He plans to attend Colorado Mountain College his first two years and would some day like to combine an education in engineering with his love of music.
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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