Campus screening of Jose Hernandez biopic inspirational to Pacificans
Many of the milestones in the remarkable life of University of the Pacific graduate and NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez ’84 have been driven by his incredible sense of patience.
He continually peppered NASA with applications for the astronaut program—12 times in all—before finally being accepted.
Strapped into Space Shuttle Discovery for the much-awaited ride of his life in 2009, the launch was scrubbed because of weather concerns. He had to wait for days before finally rocketing into space.
And now, as a biopic about his life is set to debut internationally after years of delays due to a change in networks and a pandemic, this much is obvious: patience paid off.
“That’s one thing about my dad,” said Julio Hernandez ’16, a double Pacific graduate who also has an engineering doctorate from Purdue University. “He sticks to things until they get done. That’s a family trait.”
“A Million Miles Away,” the story of Hernandez’s journey from the farm fields of San Joaquin County as a migrant worker to Pacific and to fame as an astronaut will debut September 15 on Amazon Prime. Actor Michael Pena plays the role of Hernandez.
“He has positively impacted tens or even hundreds of thousands of young people across the Central Valley. This film now will have that same impact.” - President Christopher Callahan
Pacific students, alumni, donors and other invited guests were treated to a screening of the movie on Wednesday night (August 30) at the Janet Leigh Theater and the Don and Karen DeRosa University Center on the Stockton Campus. Afterward, Hernandez took part in a question and answer session with President Christopher Callahan.
“When I was growing up my intention was not to have a movie made about my life,” Hernandez said, prompting a chuckle from the audience. “My goal was simply that I wanted to go to space. When I did get selected, I got attention because I was the first migrant farmworker astronaut. It was then I realized that I had become an instant role model. I embraced that role when it came to talking to kids to inspire them.”
Hernandez noted Hollywood often takes liberties when it comes to storylines. He said his biopic has some characters who are combined and timelines that are altered. But, for the most part, he believes the movie “stayed true” to his story. He also praised Pena’s work.
“He was my choice to play the role from the start,” Hernandez said. “And I thought he did an excellent job.”
The movie has several Pacific and Stockton references, including a shot with the Pacific gate in the background and several clips in which Pena wears a University of the Pacific shirt. Those drew applause from attendees.
Callahan expressed how proud the entire Pacific community is of Hernandez’s continuing journey.
“He has positively impacted tens or even hundreds of thousands of young people across the Central Valley,” Callahan said. “This film now will have that same impact.”
Current Pacific students agree, noting the staying power of its message of patience.
“I met Jose when I was younger when he was planning to run for an office,” said Mariana Arellano ’25, a marketing major from Modesto. “He is part of the reason I am here. He paved the way for so many of us. The fact that he was able to make it further was inspirational.”
Added Cindy Gonzalez ’25, a student in the Community Involvement Program that also was instrumental in Hernandez’s Pacific experience: “I enjoyed the movie very much. He stayed with it to reach his lifetime goals. We can all learn from his desire.”
Liz Orwin, dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science, said the lesson is one of motivation.
“You could see a kid who had a dream and a huge support system around him and he was able to take that dream and realize it,” she said “It is such a motivational story for our students—for students to realize he did not get into NASA until his 12th try. His message to them is to believe in yourself and keep trying.”
In an interview prior to the screening, Hernandez talked about embracing new challenges.
“I will always be known as an astronaut, but that and $4.99 will only get you a coffee at Starbucks,” he said. “I still must work for a living. I have my consulting business and my vineyard. I am moving forward with a lot of energy. I feel there is something big that is going to happen. What that is, I do not know. But we are turning the page every day.”