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Poised and humble, Giffords intern copes with celebrity status

He sat next to President Obama during the nationally televised memorial service. People are lining up to shake his hand, seeking an autograph or photograph.

Intern Daniel Hernandez's brave and clear-headed actions in helping save the life of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head last Saturday made him an unlikely hero. His appearance Wednesday at the Tucson memorial service for the shooting victims -- he spoke humbly about his role and was embraced by the president -- has moved his new-found celebrity into the stratosphere.

His poise and unscripted remarks in front of the president, other political dignitaries, victims' families and others in the 13,000-plus crowd in a basketball arena have left people amazed -- and heartened -- that it was coming from a 20-year-old University of Arizona student.

In his speech, Hernandez insisted he was not a hero. Obama politely disagreed, assuring him that he was, in fact, a hero.

In the shooting's aftermath, Hernandez raced to Giffords' side, holding her, applying pressure to her wounds until first responders arrived.

Since Wednesday night, Hernandez has given more than 200 interviews. Trying to walk into the medical center where Giffords is hospitalized or anywhere else, he is surrounded by throngs of well-wishers.

Hernandez said the whole event still seems unreal. He can't even remember exactly what he said Wednesday night. "I ended up throwing away the speech I was going to be giving moments before I went up on stage. I think it's really disingenuous to be doing anything other than speaking from the heart," he said.

Hernandez had been an intern with Giffords' office for all of five days when the shooting happened at a district meet-and-greet outside a supermarket. He also had volunteered for her 2008 congressional campaign.

Born in Tucson to parents of Mexican heritage, Hernandez grew up the oldest of three children. His parents taught him and his two sisters from a young age to give back.

Hernandez's talent for public speaking was developed in high school, where he participated in academic decathlons, Junior Honor Society and student council.

The amazing improvements in Giffords' medical condition have helped Hernandez get through what has been a traumatic, surreal week, he said.

"It's really hard to describe how much better I feel and just knowing she's been a fighter," Hernandez said. "I can't say I'm surprised that something miraculous happened but still, it sends chills down your spine."

Many observed after his speech that he would be a natural for public office, but Hernandez downplays the idea.

"My main focus is making sure I can get back to school, make sure no matter what I do I finish up for my degree," he said.

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