José M. Hernández
at U.C. Santa Barbara
June 14, 2014
“Reaching for the
The following is a transcript of the speech delivered by José Hernández (Master of Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, 1986) at the Engineering & Sciences commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 14, 2014.
Yang, Dean Alferness, members of the faculty, distinguished guests, family and
friends, and most importantly, the class of 2014. Congratulations on your
almost 28 years to the day that I graduated from UCSB.
a few speeches in the past, I’ve come to realize that commencement speakers are
often about as much fun as paying your tuition bill.
Both my wife
Adela and I should know since we have 5 kids of our own!
acknowledging this fact - I’ll try my best to make this short but hopefully memorable.
Even though this
may be the final phase of your education experience here at UCSB it is my hope
that wherever your journeys may take you, UCSB will remain an integral part of
your lives and that from time to time, like any good family member, you will
come back and visit often. Especially if you become the next Bill Gates or Mark
and scientists, I like to think of us as an agent of change to our world. But
changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it. Sometimes for the
better and sometimes for the worse. We only have to go back a few weeks and
remember what happened here in IV to realize how just one individual can change
it for the worse. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and the
families of the victims in these trying times for them.
on your achievements, I am confident that the talent that is out here today can
change the world, but the question is…what will the world look like when you
Well, I am
confident that it will look much, much better than it looks today. If you humor
this old Gaucho for just a moment, I have a few suggestions that may help you
on your way to a better world.
suggestions are encapsulated in a five-ingredient recipe given to me by my
father - I can assure you though that this recipe can be applied by anyone.
not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation, or your
in this world are similar and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to
move forward will apply equally to all.
I’m a prime
example. You see, I come from a typical migrant farm working family. What’s a
typical farm working family you ask?
Well, let me
paint you the picture. Each year around the February time frame, my father
would pack us four kids and Mom in the car and we would make a two-day trip
from their hometown in central Mexico to Southern California. We would stay a
couple of months while my parents worked as farmworkers and then move to
Central California. Again we would stay a couple of months and move to Northern
California. Basically following the harvest.
these places, we would always attend school Monday through Friday. But when the
weekends and summers rolled around we were there hand-in-hand working with our
parents to help with the family income.
would roll around and we would return to Mexico with three months worth of
homework in hand as we self-studied while in Mexico. February would arrive and
the process would repeat itself.
Not a very
conducive environment to get a good education. It was not until my second grade
teacher, Ms. Young, came to our house to convince my parents to change their
nomadic migrant lifestyle. This was when we finally started to call Stockton,
California home and our education started to get more traction.
period coincided with the tail end of the Apollo era. This was of course when
the United States was sending humans to the moon.
Like any 10
year old of that era, I dreamt of becoming an astronaut.
best thing I could have done during that time was share my dream of reaching
for the stars with my father.
this dream, my father, who only has a 3rd grade education, took me
to the kitchen table, sat me down and told me about his 5 ingredient recipe.
If you want to
reach for the stars he said, the first ingredient is to define my goal and
decide what I wanted to be when I grew up: I of course had the fresh images on
my mind of the last Apollo mission, Apollo 17. I recalled the images of Gene
Cernan walking on the surface of the moon, talking to mission control Houston
and the newscaster, Walter Cronkite, narrating the mission. These images are
what inspired me to want to become an astronaut.
If you want
to reach for the stars he said, the second ingredient is to recognize how far I
was from my goal: I thought about it for a while and without thinking told him
that I probably couldn’t be any further away given our social-economic status.
Instead of getting mad at me he gave me a smile and said: I’m glad you
recognize this because….
If you want
to reach for the stars he said, the third ingredient is to draw yourself a
roadmap from where you are to where you want to be. This roadmap should have as
much detail as possible and will serve as your guide throughout life.
If you want
to reach for the stars he said, the fourth ingredient he is to prepare yourself
with the appropriate level of education. He went on the say that there was no
substitute for a good education.
you want to reach for the stars he said, the fifth ingredient is to develop a
work ethic second to none. He reminded me of how hard I worked in the fields
during the weekends and summers and pointed to my books and asked me to put
that same effort in my studies and that upon graduating college to put that
effort in my job. Always, always, he said give people more than what they
expect. This should be your normal mode of operation.
Mix all this
he said and this is the recipe to reach for your stars.
going to bed so happy that evening because my parents thought I could become an
astronaut therefore I was determined to become one.
sixth ingredient I would add to my father’s recipe is perseverance. You see,
I’m here to tell you that NASA rejected my astronaut application not once,
twice three or even six times but 11 times!
It was not until my twelfth attempt that I finally succeeded in becoming
perseverance, I learned that you must typically go through three stages to
reach a goal.
stage is to meet all the minimum requirements to reach your goal. In wanting to
become an astronaut, I acquired the minimum requirements as I had my degrees in
science or engineering and five years experience as a scientist/engineer.
Six years passed
as I faithfully filled out, on an annual basis, my NASA astronaut application.
Each year was the same, I would receive a form letter, not even addressed to my
but rather, “Dear Applicant”.
It went on to
explain that NASA receives more than 4,000 qualified applications each year and
that they could only select 100 finalist for further consideration and that
unfortunately I was not one of them…
course invited me to reapply the following year, which is what I always did.
After the 6th
attempt, I discovered the second stage of reaching your goal. The second stage
is that you must acquire the same attributes of the people you want to be like.
This is when I asked my self a basic question:
What do the people that just got selected as astronauts have that I
year I did this exercise was simple, they were all pilots…I wasn’t a pilot, so
guess what, I started taking flying lessons and became a pilot. Another year I
saw that most of them were SCUBA certified….I wasn’t SCUBA certified, so guess
what, I got basic, master and SCUBA rescue certified. I wanted to make sure
that NASA knew that I was SCUBA certified!
here is that you want to be like them, you need to study the Bill Gates’ and
Mark Zuckerberg’s of the world.
stage of reaching your goal is to take advantage of opportunities that allows
you to differentiate yourself from the competition. In the mid 1990’s I read in
the news that the United States and Russia had just signed an agreement to
build what was to be the International Space Station. It didn’t take a rocket
scientist, even though I was one, to figure out that we were in the near future
going to work with the Russians in space.
So when a job
came across my desk at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that involved a
lot of travel to Siberia and work in the nuclear nonproliferation arena, I was
quick to volunteer for the job. Why? Well I can assure you it wasn’t because I
wanted to get to know the Siberian countryside in the middle of winter! But
rather because I could now go to my boss and ask for a one on one Russian
language instructor so I could learn Russian and do my job more effective!
Hence, Ya ponemayu pa Ruski yazik!
skill helped me differentiate myself from the rest of the competition.
All of a
sudden I received a letter from NASA, this time it said: Dear. Dr. Hernandez,
congratulations on being one of the 100 finalists! We will schedule you for a
one-week visit to the Johnson Space Center where you will go through a series
of medical, psychological, and aptitude tests and interviews.
though I passed the medical, aptitude and to my wife’s surprise, psychological
tests I’m here to tell you that it took me three tries in being on the final
100 list before being selected as part of the 19th class of
astronauts in 2004.
This was a
journey that started as a 10-year old and took 32 years to reach. It wasn’t a
journey of one man…I took my family along and they happily propped me up when I
needed it. I had co-workers who mentored me, professors like Dr. Sanjit Mitra
here at UCSB who prepared me, and support programs like MESA and the MEP
programs, also here at UCSB, that without them I couldn’t have possibly
succeeded. I also had advocates in NASA…In short; I had plenty of help and
support along the way.
here is don’t take on the world or change the world alone. There are plenty of
people that want to see you succeed so please don’t be afraid to accept their
help along the way.
graduating class of 2014, you are moments away from graduating. Moments away
from beginning your journey through life. Moments away from starting to change
the world – for the better.
It will not
be easy. But YOU are the class of 2014 – the class of engineers and scientists that
will be an agent of change.
life will not be fair and that you, like I, will fail often. But don’t be
afraid to take calculated risks, operate out of your comfort zone and never,
ever give up-If you do these things, then the next generation and the
generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have
today and- what started here will indeed have changed the world-for the better.
very much, Muchisimas gracias and Go Gauchos!