LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- A JCPS student is spending his first day in Washington D.C. ahead of an elite government leadership camp few can say they've been a part of.
Seventeen-year-old Gil Hernandez is one of just two people chosen to represent Kentucky at Boys Nation where he'll spend the next week meeting with lawmakers and the president.
Friday morning Gil Hernandez was preparing for a trip of a lifetime. He made his way to the ticket counter at Louisville International Airport early Friday morning, anxious and excited, with an expression of pure joy for this Butler Traditional High School senior.
Hernandez is one of 98 seniors across the country chosen to attend Boys Nation in D.C., an elite week-long mock government camp few can add to their resume.
But you can't get there, without making it up the ranks at the state level. Kentucky's camp takes place at Campbellsville University. Jonathan Joseph teaches government at Butler High but volunteers with the leadership camp every year.
"We take kids from all over KY, some interested in military, leadership and government. We basically are an imaginary 51st state. We make our own government. People run for our own governor, lieutenant governor, on the way down. Basically, a really neat experience for kids to have for a week," Joseph said.
Twenty-five thousand students make up Boys State programs across the country, but only two from each state will make the national stage, diving into leadership lectures, meet and greets with local lawmakers and the president. Here in Kentucky, it was a unanimous decision.
“We had a vote on two people to go and I was one of them,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez was the top pick.
"This is the top of the top of the top students who are going to this. Gil's getting ready to do things that are once in a lifetime. This is a fully paid trip to D.C.,” Joseph explained.
Hernandez said, “My mind went blank, I didn't know what to think, it was crazy.”
His journey to get to this moment, years in the making.
At 7-years-old, Hernandez and his mother left their home in Oaxaca, Mexico for the United States.
"It was scary and long," he said.
They barely survived their journey to freedom, which included a three-day trip across the Sonora Desert.
"She almost had an accident, but we kept going,” Hernandez said.
It was hard to stop the tears when he spoke of his mother's determination and sacrifice.
He said, “My mom is amazing. I couldn't do anything without her. She's everything. I love her.”
Now 17, Hernandez is on the path to citizenship.
"Gil is the epitome of the American Dream. He's not let his circumstances dictate his future,” Joseph said.
He's most excited to meet President Donald Trump.
"This is something that so many people haven't done and won't get to do,” Hernandez said.
He said many are surprised to hear he's a supporter but tells them Trump deserves a chance. He's still not sure what he wants to say to him when the time comes.
"Politics has the power to change people's lives and make them better,” Hernandez said.
With politics in his future, he hopes telling his story could help initiate change for others walking in his footsteps.
Since Boys Nation began in 1946, a number of its graduates have been elected to public office, including presidents, congressmen, state governors and state legislators.