As a child, Hernandez and his family toiled as migrant farm workers. He remembers clearly his father's words after a hard day of picking cucumbers.
"He said, how do you kids feel right now?" said Hernandez. "Of course, after a hard day's work, we answered, we're tired. He said, remember this feeling because you kids have the privilege of living your future now."
That meant going to school and getting an education. And Hernandez had a goal: to become an astronaut. He applied to the program several times.
"I didn't get accepted the first time, second time, third time," Hernandez told ABC7. "It took 12 years to get accepted, 12 years, so that's perseverance."
In 2009, Hernandez took flight onboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.
On Thursday, thousands of students attending the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute's series heard his story. It's a success story they hope to follow.
"I was raised by a single mother," said Adeyanira Escuadra, Whitney Young High School junior. "We come from a low-income family. I think seeing other people start off from a small place and they were able to prosper in life, it's a very high inspiration for us."
Chicago is just one stop. The U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute announced Thursday that student events, like the one being held in the city this week, will be held in more than 20 states this year.
The ultimate goal for every Latino family?
"In every household, every household, and there are millions of them, we have to work towards this - we have to ensure in every household there is a diploma - for high school graduation, for post secondary education or training," said Dr. Juan Andrade, United States Hispanic Leadership Institute.
That's an important message for the young minds who are looking ahead.
"I think the most important thing that everyone should get out of this is the great role of leadership," said Tania Cordova, Munster High School junior. "Because think about what great of a world we would have if everyone came to this and all got fired up, and then we just be so powerful."
Powerful -- and successful, like Jose Hernandez.
"Anything is possible in this country," he said. "If folks are willing to work hard, get themselves a good education, anything is possible."