Sunday, May 27, 2018
Back to Ceremony
By Danielle Katlin Winter
To the Class of 2018:
On the evening of July 18, 1969, Richard Nixon was preparing to make one of two equally rehearsed speeches. The moon landing, a much more precarious event than we commonly understand it to be, had just occurred.
Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong would spend twenty-two hours hopping around on the moon, too captivated by the sheer wonder of space travel to contemplate whether they’d be able to come home or not. The possibility of the two of them spending the rest of their lives staring despondently at the moon was very, very real.
Now, I don’t mean to be dramatic, but sometimes heading out into the world feels a bit like hurtling headlong into space. People tell you that you’re prepared, but you’re not quite convinced. So, since I’m with you in this shuttle, I’m not going to pretend that I have some prescient advice.
Instead, I just want to highlight some things about Apollo 11’s trip, and how it is quite similar to our potentially unadvisable journey into the vacuum of say, corporate life.
One. Neil Armstrong only made it to the lunar launchpad because he received a scholarship to attend college. After years of training, he was afraid that he’d never get to the moon because Congress was threatening to cut the program’s funding. He described the country’s climate as “on the brink of World War III.” He could not afford the life insurance policy NASA offered him, and so he signed hundreds of photos so that his family could live off of the profits of selling them if he died. He, like Nixon, was preparing for both options. To his delight, the much more favorable outcome lay ahead.
Two. Armstrong, when landing the Lunar module on the moon, touched down with less than a minute of descent fuel remaining. Like a Moodle post at 11:59, they really just made it.
Three. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were as different as two people could be. When approaching the pockmarked lunar surface, Armstrong described it as “beautiful” while Aldrin said it was “magnificent desolation.” Ever the pilot, Armstrong offered useful information about the behavior of the spacecraft he delivered them in while Aldrin produced meticulous descriptions of the way lunar dust settled when sprinkled from above.
Each found the other’s view of the world backwards. However, I attribute their camaraderie to the fact that they quickly realized that if the ship exploded, they’d both be on it. Origin, disposition, and identity mattered little in such exciting and dire circumstances.
Four. Michael Collins, the often forgotten third member of the 11 flight who remained in the module, saved the entire mission when he ingeniously activated the broken ascent engine switch with a felt-tipped pen. This was after a control room full of NASA engineers couldn’t figure it out. In the toughest of situations, he trusted his own intellect.
Thanks to Collins quick thinking, the astronauts, after the scarlet fire of atmospheric reentry faded, splashed into still Hawaiian waters. Heads bowed in prayer, they listened to the benediction of their new lives as moonmen, “Speed our enthusiasm and bless our joy with dedicated purpose for the many needs at hand. Link us in friendship as we strive together to better human conditions.” This advice seems as urgent now as it was then.
From those who have traveled in the ship, to those just starting their journey, this sounds like solid advice to me.
It has been a pleasure to attend this institution with you all. I wish you the very best this world and beyond has to offer.