Humberto Saenz named NHI Person of the Year
From the very beginnings of NHI, Humberto Saenz was there, and he’s been helping to shape NHI history since his first involvement with NHI 32 years ago. Now, he’s making history by become NHI’s first ever Person of the Year.
The NHI Person of the Year is a new designation honoring a person in the NHI family who has shown consistent engagement with the organization and its values, according to NHI President and Founder Ernesto Nieto. Unlike the annual Celebracion awards, which are determined in the fall, the Person of the Year will now be announced at the start of the new calendar year, to help commemorate the year that’s just passed.
“Humberto Saenz has given more than 30 years of service to NHI, and his work has helped shape what we’ve created,” Nieto said. “His work at a Secretary of State has profoundly impacted our programming for today’s NHI student, and his continued work for NHI has undeniably helped us become who we are as an organization.”
As a high school student from Weslaco, he represented the Rio Grande Valley at the very first Great Debate at Southwestern University in 1985, and won it—back when it was an exercise in defending policy position papers as part of the Young Leadership Conference, and back when only Houston, Austin and the RGV were represented.
In 1986, he attended one of the early LDZ events, also hosted by Southwestern and staged in part at the Texas State Capitol, and then served as a senior counselor.
He then became, as Nieto called him, “the Dean of the Secretary of State,” serving in the role 15 times, helping to formulate what Saenz now recognizes as “one of the primary educator roles” at NHI. In 1991, he was part of the first class of John F. Lopez Fellows, who were tasked with creating the structure for the initial Collegiate World Series. He even became an employee of NHI while attending college at Southwestern, overseeing finance and development.
He’s most recently served as the education director for the Texas Ambassador Great Debate for the last four years, Celebracion education director for the last three years, and has been on the NHI board since 2008.
Though he’s been involved with NHI to a degree few have, he regards the award with humility.
“I know that it may be cliché to say this, but even when I saw the nomination come out, I didn’t know that I was worthy to be nominated, much less to win this award,” Saenz said. “I think about the hundreds of people who dedicate so much time and effort to ensure the success of the organization. I think I’m just one of those people.”
Reflecting on how NHI has changed his life, he recalls Alex del Barrio’s speech from the most recent Alumni Awards event at Celebracion, who said that part of the reason he’s involved with NHI is because “he owes.”
“I think that’s a small statement with so much meaning,” Saenz said. “So many of us are involved because we owe this organization, which has provided countless opportunities that we otherwise wouldn’t have had. For me, my involvement is to ensure that other people have the same opportunities that I had not only to find their voice, but to meet other people like them, and then going forward from that, tapping into those networks we’ve created as friends and taking them into our business lives, to marshal each other as resources, and support each other in what we do.”