Last night I got to hear on of my childhood heroes speak on campus. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and the youngest American in space at the time, came to our campus to speak during the Maverick Speaker Series! It was awesome.
I can still remember watching her in space when I was five. I wanted to be an astronaut so bad! After the Challenger crashed, I remember pouring over the newspaper articles and Time magazine issues dedicated to the astronauts. I even went to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama when I was in 6th grade. Other kids played cowboys and Indians and built forts out of pillows and boxes. I built a space shuttle out of an old ironing board, pillows, blankets, and snack tables. I had tons of books about space, astronauts, and the space shuttle.
As I got older I could see the chances of me being an astronaut slipping away. I got glasses, which meant being a test pilot in the Air Force wasn’t an option and I struggled with Math, limiting my options as a scientist. I found other things to be passionate about, and I while my dream of going to space isn’t dead (feel free to donate $ to the send Carl on a Virgin Galactic flight) it isn’t in the forefront of my mind either.
Until last night, when Sally Ride took the stage and all those memories came flooding back. She talked about her experiences with NASA and in space and about her foundation, which aims to keep children interested in science and math as potential careers. For me though, her speech was about dreams and heroes.
Sally Ride will always be one of my heroes, whether or not I ever feel the excitement at launch or the release of weightlessness, but she’s not my only hero. More importantly, find a place where your dreams can flourish. It’s not enough to simply follow your dreams. You need to constantly mold your life so that you live and work and study in a place where your dreams can come alive. 68% of 4th grade boys and 66% of 4th grade girls like science, but by fifth and sixth grade, their passion fades. . . something about society and their environment sends them the wrong message about liking science. It’s a function of not being in the right place. Dreams should be stretches of the imagination, challenges to your mind and body. You wouldn’t expect to be physically fit if the gym where you worked out was a tiny room with a big couch, a big screen TV, and refrigerator filled with junk food. The same thing goes for dreams. You need to find a place to work on them that supports you.
While my dreams today don’t involve flying the space shuttle, they are still about answering tough questions and working to make the world a better place. For me, the place that supports my dreams is UT Arlington and mentors and professors who have been my heroes. I hope UT Arlington will be that place for you too. Wherever you go to college, keep in mind that for most people, this is the place your dreams will either begin to take root or start to retreat. You will need to be in a place that understands your dreams and surrounded by heroes who will inspire you to accomplish them.