Astronaut encourages Concord students to follow their dreams

CONCORD, Calif. (KGO) -- This morning when we drove to Concord High School in the East Bay, I was thinking about what to ask former astronaut Jose M. Hernandez. I knew he would deliver an inspirational message to students there, but I never expected to be inspired myself.

Hernandez was born in California, the son of immigrant farm workers. He himself spent weekends and summers picking crops. "All of my friends loved the summer break, except for me and my siblings because we had to work hard," he told students.

One day, in 1972, as a ten-year-old boy he was watching astronaut Eugene Cernan, from Apollo 17, walking on the moon. Cernan was the 11th and last person to walk on the moon.

Hernandez remembers watching news anchor Walter Cronkite on the family's old black and white TV. Cronkite was narrating the entire event. From that moment on, Hernandez knew he wanted to become an astronaut.

When he approached his father to tell him about his desire to join NASA, Hernandez expected his father to discourage him.

Instead, his father gave him what he calls were "five ingredients" for success. First, he told him to define what you want to be, second, recognize how far you are from that goal, three, draw a roadmap to see how to get there, four, get a good education, and number five work hard.

Hernandez took his father's advise and later added another one so-called ingredient. He was rejected 11 times from entering the NASA program. But he never gave up.

Finally, NASA called him and in August 2009 Hernandez went into space on a 14-day mission to the international space station. What was that sixth "ingredient?" Perseverance.

"Remember, never, ever give up," he told students.

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