AIMING FOR THE STARS
Story by Mathew Harrington
Every good man has a story. Jose's life tells of integrity, hard work and achievement. It is an example of what is good and admirable.
Jose Hernandez is a first generation Mexican-American, the son of migrant farmer laborers. As is typical with migrant farm laborers, during harvest his family frequently moved from place to place throughout California's Central Valley. In the winter, they spent time in his grandparents' home in the state of Michoacán, in central Mexico.
“It was a tough life,” Hernandez said. “We moved frequently, often attending 3 or 4 school districts throughout the year and sometimes home-schooling ourselves. During the winter months, we took three months of school work with us to Mexico and did it in my grandmother’s kitchen every morning. That was my early life.”
Upon the urging of his second grade school teacher his parents settled in Stockton, California. “One day I told my teacher we were going to Mexico again and asked her if she could prepare three months of homework for me. Having gone through this very same thing with my three older siblings, she went to my parents’ home and suggested that it would be best for us to be kept in one place. She told my parents that we were like trees. When a tree gets transplanted too many times, its roots become stunted, its growth is hindered. If planted in one place the roots would grow deep and the tree would become strong.” Jose's parents listened to the advice of his teacher, giving him an opportunity to grow and develop.
Jose's dream of becoming an astronaut began when he was nine years old. Hernandez related he was watching T.V. with his father when he saw the very last mission of the Apollo era, Apollo 17. When he saw Astronaut Eugene Cernans’ walk on the moon he was hooked. “That’s when I knew I wanted to be an astronaut.” The young Hernandez shared his dream with his parents. His father, recognizing his son's interest in space exploration, shared with him five basic instructions for achievement and success.
1. Identify your goal.
2. Realize how far you are away from that goal.
3. Draw yourself a road map from where you are to where you want to go, and don’t skip any steps.
4. Become educated.
5. Complete all your tasks with diligence and determination.
Hernandez's father advised him, “With the same work ethic you used to pick cucumbers in the field, study hard in school. When you get a job, use that same ethic to work at everything you're assigned. With purpose and will, you can be whatever you want to be because you were born in the United States. You have the opportunity to reach the American dream.”
Jose followed his father's road map to success. He became a diligent student, eventually graduating with a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. He later received a Masters Degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Upon graduating, Jose was employed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he followed his dream to become an astronaut. During this time of preparation, Jose related he added one more step to his father's plan for success: perseverance. “It took me 12 years to be selected as an astronaut. I didn’t give up the first, the second or the eleventh time. I kept trying until I was finally selected to the program.” As an astronaut, Hernandez was assigned as a crew member aboard the space shuttle Discovery on its 128th mission in space. Jose stated that the experience of circling the earth in the space station, watching the beauty of our planet from space, was indescribable and worth all the effort he made to reach his dream.
With the retirement of his career as an astronaut with NASA, Hernandez says the next goal in his life is serving his community at the national level.“My goal is now to represent my community as a congressman in the 10th District to the United States Congress. I want to represent the best interests of the valley, and the industry of agriculture. I could have continued my career with NASA; however, I believe I can be more effective serving my community in Congress.” Jose is reaching for a new dream. We wish him well.
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