Leia Celebrates National Astronaut Day

For Teaching Resilience

To Don Thomas,

You were the first astronaut I had the pleasure of meeting in 2017. You taught me the importance of resilience and grit. As I work through my degree program, I recall how you faced your disappointments and rejections and graciously moved past them in the face of unfavorable odds. I often remember how when I struggle, it is all a part of the journey, and each rejection leads me to exactly where I am supposed to be.

For Kickstarting Dreams

To Hoot Gibson,

While I only met you briefly at Space Camp in 2019, I remember how much I loved hearing about your experience. You were part of the reason I decided to pursue flight lessons. Thank you for donating so much of your time to inspiring students.

For Bridging Science and Art

To Nicole Stott,

I see your mark on my campus at Embry-Riddle, daily. Your career as an artist and as a scientist truly resonated with me. While I only met you briefly, it’s always inspiring to see the student art hanging in the Nicole Stott Art Gallery and to be reminded there is always a place for creativity in STEM. You are the true definition of a Renaissance Woman.

For Teaching Dedication

To Wendy Lawrence,

I really appreciated your commitment to Higher Orbits, especially under unique circumstances. Our meeting was over video call at the Spring Grove Event following the pandemic, but you still made every effort to give advice and thoughtfully respond to all our questions. Your thoughtfulness has truly made a lasting impact.

For Teaching Perseverance

To Charlie Bolden,

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me at both IAC 2019 and over video call during one of the Spring Grove Events! Your thoughtfulness and stories about your time as a student pilot were motivating and instilled the importance of perseverance and determination in pursuit of one’s dreams.

For encouraging Passion

To Kay Hire,

One of my favorite things about meeting you was how you talked about your passion for marine biology as a child and how it influenced your future, even if it wasn’t exactly as you pictured. At the time, I was scared I would choose the wrong path. I was looking at colleges and uncertain about my future. You taught me that even if I don’t get to do everything I imagined for myself, always do something I love and let my passions drive me toward my next goal.

For a Cherished Memory

To Frank Culbertson,

I vividly remember meeting you at SciTech 2020. I was presenting at the time and saw you in the audience. You said something I will cherish for the rest of my life. You said, “It’s nice to finally meet you, Leia.” And you asked me about my experience in Australia at the International Science School and my goals. For one, I remember growing up and recognizing you from all of the science shows I grew up watching, and I was in awe that you even knew who I was. The sentence was brief, but it meant so much to me. Little words can mean big things. You may not remember it, but I always will.

For teaching Humor and Compassion

To Greg Johnson and Doug Wheelock,

At the International Astronautical Congress in 2019, I remember just how kind you both were. Hearing your stories about your time on the ISS is still one of my favorite memories, and I am so fortunate that you spent the time talking with me and the other students, even if I was a bit shy at the time. You both were some of the funniest people I’ve met. I learned how important it is to find humor in unfortunate circumstances and to treat everyone with respect and compassion.

For Highlighting the Importance of Education

To Dottie Metcalf-Lindenberger,

I had such a blast talking to you at the Grand Geneva Golf Outing. My mom, Kati, and I got to meet up with you to take some pictures of you and the golfers. I laugh remembering you golfing with a group that was in no way affiliated with Higher Orbits or the golf outing. They were happy to let you take some swings though! It was so fun laughing with you and hearing about your journey. Lastly, I admire that you’re also a scientist and teacher. Your passion for educating students is something that I really look up to and hope I can replicate one day.

For Emphasizing the Importance of Community

To Mike Foreman,

We first met at an event in Spring Grove, but chatting with you at the golf outing was a true privilege! Thanks for letting me take the seat next to you and bug you with questions. You are really one of the most down-to-earth people I’ve met, and I really appreciate how much you give back to your community. I love seeing how you use your experiences to help all different groups of people, reminding me of the importance of supporting those who support us.

Each of you taught me something different about how to live life. There is not one single correct path. However, your dedication, resilience, and passion are all common traits. I am so glad to have met all of you and hope you all know how grateful I am for the efforts you put in to inspire the next generation!

Written by Leia Spaniak

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