Dressed in a blue flight suit, astronaut Jose Hernandez spoke to fourth through eighth graders at the Village at Indian Hill Conference Center about how they could achieve any goal they set their mind on.
"I'm not that much different from you," Hernandez said. "I see so much of myself in you."
Hernandez, 48, was the flight engineer on the space shuttle Discovery mission from Aug. 28 to Sept. 11, 2009. During the mission, Hernandez and other astronauts traveled to the International Space Station to drop off a member of the station crew and to deliver more than 18,000 pounds of equipment and supplies.
Hernandez told the students that as a boy he worked with his family each spring as a migrant farmworker. They would leave their home in Mexico and move around Southern and Central California to harvest crops. The family would return to Mexico in December.
The journey included stops in Ontario and Chino where they picked strawberries, Hernandez said.
Although Hernandez was born in California, he didn't learn to speak English until he was 12. However, that didn't stop him from going to college and becoming an engineer and later an astronaut.
Hernandez told students they were at an age when they would start determining what they
"It's very important to stay in school. It's very important to follow your dreams," Hernandez said. "Go after your dream, por que si se puede (because it can be done)."
As part of his presentation, Hernandez played a video that included clips of his 14-day mission to the International Space Station.
In a question-and-answer session, a teacher asked Hernandez how important reading was to his preparation and to becoming an astronaut. He told students reading is critical.
As a student, he said he initially thought he wouldn't need to develop his reading and writing skills because he intended to be an engineer.
Hernandez said he soon realized how important those skills would be to his work because there would be reports and proposals to write.
Reading, he told students, will help them polish their writing.
"You're improving your language, you're learning how to write and how the express yourself," he said.
One student asked Hernandez what inspired him to become an astronaut. It was a combination of things that included watching the Apollo moon landings as a boy, Hernandez said.
When Hernandez was a teen, Franklin Chang-Diaz, a native of Costa Rica, become a NASA astronaut and the first first Latino to go into space. He and Chang-Diaz had many things things in common, Hernandez said.
"If this guy could do it, why not me," Hernandez said he recalled thinking.
Principal Maria Bolado told students they can achieve as much as Hernandez has.
"You saw someone just like you who soared to new heights," she said.