Meet Yamilet Herrera, a recent PSHS graduate headed off to UCLA with a big honor under her belt

In this month’s Profiles, we introduce you to a Palm Springs High School graduate who has big plans for her future after landing a prestigious Gates Scholarship that will help her attend UCLA.
Yamilet Herrera, a recent PSHS graduate, was one of 750 students awarded a Gates Scholarship. She plans to attend UCLA.

Ten years ago, when she was interviewed about a musical theater program, eight-year-old Yamilet Herrera told the reporter: “I am a girl that finishes what I have started. I work hard to reach my goals every day. Sometimes when I work hard I get tired, but I never stop.” 

A decade later, Herrera barely remembers that interview, but she’s still living the words of that confident eight-year-old.

Earlier this month, Herrera graduated from Palm Springs High School with several awards and honors, including the prestigious Gates Scholarship, awarded to just 750 students out of about 51,000 applicants. The full-ride scholarship will pay for tuition, housing, food, books and other costs when she attends the University of California, Los Angeles in the fall.

“I think my mom was the most excited when I was accepted,” Herrera said. Her mom, she added, is happy that she’ll be close by in Los Angeles and even closer to her older sister, Stephany, who attends the University of Southern California, UCLA’s biggest rival.

“It was all Trojan everything until I really started to consider how much of a good fit UCLA would be for me,” she said. Herrera thinks the welcoming environment will suit her, and she’s thankful that even though her sister is just across town, she can still forge her own path.

Herrera’s parents were born in Mexico and have lived in the United States for about 20 years, raising Yamilet, Stephany and their younger sister, Alexa, in Palm Springs. Stephany is also a recipient of the Gates Scholarship.

“We’re both so grateful that we can alleviate the financial stress of my family,” Herrera said. She also credits her sister with encouraging and helping her through the grueling college application when she felt very alone.

Herrera is excited — and nervous — to start college in September. She says she’ll miss shopping and going on nature walks in Palm Springs, and, like a true local, she’ll even miss the desert’s oppressive heat.

While many teens head to college still undecided on their major, Herrera said she spent a lot of time before going into her senior year reflecting.

“I needed to figure out what I’m good at and what interests me,” she said.

Herrera will major in communications, with the goal of eventually working in marketing. She thinks the field will be a perfect outlet for both her creative and analytical sides. Herrera said she didn’t necessarily see herself doing art as a career, but gravitated more towards design, advertising and branding.

“For a project in class, we had to create a brochure,” she said. “I could get so creative in the advertising aspect, so I figured I would enjoy that as a career.”

Marketing, she said, would also be a good fit for her personality and leadership qualities, which she honed in groups like the Spanish Honors Society and the California Scholarship Federation.

In high school, Herrera’s busy schedule was filled with swim and water polo practice, and she also participated in the school’s orchestra and band. She has played the flute and piccolo since middle school and picked up the cello in high school.

But her high school career wasn’t without challenges. Herrera’s first year of school was cut short by the pandemic, and she finally restarted in-person schooling junior year. “I was trying to acclimate to high school freshman year, but then I just had to do it all over again,” she said. 

She also remembers fighting for wifi with her sisters when each was trying to attend class. “Even finding a quiet space to work in our tiny apartment was difficult,” she said.

Despite the difficulties, Herrera kept up her studies and high grades and her involvement in extracurriculars like band. She even started volunteering during the pandemic by doing weekly video calls with seniors suffering from memory issues.

“I just had to adapt,” she said. “That’s a critical skill during that time period.”

Now, Herrera is ready to grab any and every opportunity that comes her way.

And after seeing how much her parents sacrificed and supported her, she’s not taking anything for granted. Herrera hopes her accomplishments have been fulfilling for her parents, too. 

“I’m just happy to see them proud of me,” she said. 

Below are Yamilet’s responses to a few questions from The Post:

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Age: 18

Occupation: Student 

Neighborhood: Downtown Palm Springs area

How long have you lived in the desert? 18 years — born and raised in Palm Springs!

What brought you here? My parents believed Palm Springs was the perfect environment to raise a family, where their children would be safe and have the opportunity to receive a good education.

What keeps you here? Most of all, my family and community in the desert that has watched me grow and shaped me into the person I am. Although I will be leaving for college soon, I will be looking forward to returning during school breaks and in the future.

Do you have family here? My entire family resides in Palm Springs, including my parents and two sisters. I also have a lot of extended family here as well. 

What is your favorite time of the year here? Winter, when all of the holiday spirit and festivities light up the town. Plus it’s always nice and chilly outside. 

How do you beat the heat? By going out for a nice swim and some ice cream! Always makes for a great summer day.

Do you have a personal philosophy by which you live? Carpe diem — seize the day. It always reminds me to live in the moment and always make the most out of every situation or opportunity that is handed to you in life.

What’s your favorite place to eat? Felipe’s

What’s the biggest issue facing our community? Among the youth, a prevalent issue is the decline in motivation or interest to fulfill their education or pursue their interests. A wide range of factors contribute to this issue, but it’s very important that students are able to place academic / personal goals for themselves with the confidence that they will be able to succeed. Moreover, it is also important for them to find a healthy support system, whether it be through family, friends, teachers or any nurturing relationship that will push them to be the best version of themselves. 

What’s your favorite thing to do or place to go in the desert? I love spending time with friends or family, exploring new shops and restaurants around town, catching new movies or being outdoors hiking.

What’s your guilty pleasure? Definitely shopping!

What would you tell people about Palm Springs that they might not already know? Palms Springs is an extremely bright and welcoming environment, not only open to tourists, but also dedicated to serving its beautifully diverse community.

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