It is not often that a small independent school in a rural area is given the opportunity to meet a true American hero who also represents the best of the best in his field, but that is exactly what happened on Tuesday, October 6.
In the weeks and days leading up to Mark Kelly’s visit, the school community came together and prepared questions, read his books, talked about space exploration and finalized plans for his day and evening presentation. We wondered how this renowned Astronaut would deliver an age-appropriate presentation that meets kids’ needs from pre-k through eighth grade, since time did not allow us to divide up the student body as we often do. Would he feel at ease among both our school and parent population? Would this luminary be aloof, or unassuming?
Our questions were answered immediately upon his arrival at Powhatan. After being greeted at the door by school leadership with appropriate introductions, he quickly pulled an apple out of his pocket, presented it to our own Jenny Wooldridge, and said, “I grabbed this apple when I was leaving the White House and I’d like you to have it.” That was just the beginning.
After a few minutes of conversing in the Alumni Room, the 8th & 5th grade Post/Rail Captains arrived to escort Mr. Kelly to the auditorium. Each student introduced themselves and he immediately engaged them with questions and jokes. It didn’t take long for the group to relax and when he asked which was better, a Post or a Rail, the entire crew jumped up and down excitedly proclaiming their favorite. Off to the auditorium they went, like a crew of astronauts headed towards the launch pad.
Mr. Kelly regaled the 240 pairs of student eyes for over 30 minutes, describing in detail what it feels like to blast off from a launch pad at 17,500 miles per hour and orbit around the Earth every 90 minutes, taking in a sunrise and sunset every 45 minutes. He spoke of the time and focus it takes to learn how to operate the over 17,000 knobs, switches and pulls in the cockpit of the space shuttle. We learned what kind of toll it takes on the human body to exist without gravity for an extended period of time, as his twin brother Scott is experiencing during his year-long stay on the International Space Station. Perhaps most importantly, he advised the kids that just because you aren’t good at something right now, whether that is science or soccer or math, that fact has little bearing on how good they could be. In fact, he drew many parallels to his own experience in having difficulty with math at an early age and not naturally excelling at piloting aircraft.
He most certainly excelled in his one-on-one interactions with our students who participated in the book signing. Mr. Kelly signed more than 90 copies of his books, Mousetronaut and Astrotwins, Project Blastoff and wrote a personal note in each book.
The evening event was no different. In front of a packed house full of over 280 Powhatan parents and supporters from many generations, Mr. Kelly spoke of grit, and determination, and how important it is to never give up, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. He also spoke lovingly and compassionately about his wife, Gabby Giffords, and the strength she demonstrated throughout the aftermath of her injury. He effortlessly wove parallels between the challenges he faced in his aviation career and his personal life. For a school whose motto is “we learn not for school, but for life”, there is no doubt every student and guest who attended these presentations took home some sound advice. In fact, he closed the evening presentation with a message from his wife:
“Be bold. Be courageous. Be your best.”
Mr. Kelly, thank you for an unbelievable day. Powhatan School salutes you.
To learn more about his visit:
Northern Virginia Daily article: http://www.nvdaily.com/news/2015/10/students-meet-a-star-in-the-stem-field/
Winchester Star article: http://www.winchesterstar.com/article/astronaut_kelly_engages_students_on_space_travels