The man credited with saving the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot during a campaign stop in Tucson, Ariz., spoke at Wright State University, where he detailed the shooting and called on students and others to pursue public service.
“There are not enough people trying to change their communities,” Daniel Hernandez told about 100 Wright State students, faculty and community members. “I think all of us can find little ways in which we can give back to our communities; find something that drives us, find something you’re passionate about.”
Hernandez’ May 2 address in the Student Union Apollo Room was part of the university’s 2011-12 Presidential Lecture Series. His talk was titled “How Student Advocacy and Activism Helped Me Give to My Community.”
A 22-year-old University of Arizona student, Hernandez served as a campaign manager for a state representative and teaches young people how to run effective races. He was a volunteer who helped Giffords get re-elected in 2008 and became an intern for Giffords just days before the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting that left her critically injured and six people dead.
Following the shooting, Hernandez rushed to Giffords’ side, held her up so she wouldn’t choke on her blood, and applied pressure to her wound with his hand until clean smocks could be found. He then rode with Giffords to the hospital in the ambulance, explaining what was happening and trying to contact her husband and parents.
Hernandez told his Wright State audience that after he arrived at the hospital and was separated from Giffords, he heard that she had died and didn’t learn for eight hours that she had actually survived.
“For that eight hours, I was in a very distraught state because after all the things I that had done and all the things that other people had done, it seemed like all the work had been for naught,” he said. “So we were very lucky that we were able to get her into the … medical center within 45 minutes and probably saved her life.”
When President Obama came to Tucson for the memorial service a few days after the shooting, he said Americans were grateful for the actions by Hernandez, who rejects the idea that he was a hero.
“You may deny it,” Obama was quoted as saying, “but we have decided you are a hero because you ran through the chaos to minister to your boss and tended to her wounds and helped keep her alive.”
Hernandez said publicly speaking about the shooting has been “a very strange form of therapy.”
“For a lot of other people who were there, they have issues even today speaking about what happened,” he said. “But because I never had the opportunity to not talk about what happened, I’ve been forced to process it out loud, generally in front of a camera.”
Hernandez, who is Hispanic, has said that if there is a lesson to be learned from the tragedy, it is that public service needs to become a higher priority and that Americans need to come together regardless of race.
“Public service is something we need much more in our communities, whether it’s in Ohio or Arizona,” he said. “You never have enough public servants.”
Hernandez also emphasized the importance of kindness, civility, humility and education.
“It doesn’t matter what your economic status is, whether you’re a minority or disabled; it really is about how much work and effort you put into it because education is one of the greatest equalizers that we have,” he said.
The Wright State University Presidential Lecture Series was developed to advance human justice and promote the university’s commitment to creating a diverse university community and learning environment.