De Anza Magnet students listen to Commander John Herrington speak on how he became the first Native American in space
De Anza Magnet School students in El Centro spent an hour Thursday afternoon listening to the story of how the first Native American in space accomplished that dream.
Cmdr. John Herrington took the sixth- through eighth- grade students on a journey that started as an eight-year-old boy sitting in a cardboard box dreaming of going to the moon and ended with a launch to the International Space Station. He spoke to the students to call attention to the importance of education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), something he does regularly at NASA schools and Native American reservations throughout the nation.
“I always dreamed of going to space, but I never thought I could accomplish it,” Herrington said during his presentation. “You have to put forth the effort and believe in yourself.”
Herrington, a member of the Chickasaw nation in Oklahoma, said there are a number of different paths to take to be an astronaut. One is more traditional and involves always having the passion and drive to do well in school, but that wasn’t how Herrington did it.
In fact, Herrington said he was kicked out of college originally due to low grades. A co-worker eventually convinced him to go back to school and after graduation he became a Navy pilot, later received a Master’s of Science degree and then lifted off into space in 2002 on the shuttle Endeavour.
“He has a good story because he wasn’t a straight-A student,” said De Anza Magnet School Principal Richard Sanchez. “We want to motivate some of our kids to get out of their comfort zone.”
Genesis Gallegos, 11, said she thought the presentation was very informative.
“It gives me peace of mind,” Gallegos said. “If no one believes in us, we need to try to ignore them and reach for the stars anyway.”
Herrington said there were numerous times throughout his life when he thought he couldn’t achieve his dreams, but words from his father always helped get him through the difficult times. His father would say, “If you quit now, you’re going to regret it.”
“There’s a feeling of satisfaction that comes when you accomplish something hard,” Herrington said. “You’re not as satisfied if it comes easily.”
Out of 108 billion people who have occupied the Earth in the history of the planet, only 536 people have been in space during that time, Herrington said, emphasizing just how difficult it was for him to go into space. Of those 536 people, only 204 have walked in space. Herrington was the 143rd person to do so.
Only 24 people in the history of the human race have been to the moon and just 12 of them have actually walked on it, not including Herrington.
Herrington spoke of the difference of moving around in space because of a lack of gravity, explained what shooting stars and supernovas are and what it was like to be on the International Space Station.
“It was pretty cool. He’s a pretty cool person,” Raymond Galvez, 14, said.
Galvez, who is part Native American, said it was an honor to hear Herrington speak and it helps make people like him want to be like Herrington.
After his adventure into space, Herrington traveled about 4,200 miles across the country on a bicycle stopping at NASA schools and American Indian reservations, where he stressed the importance of education.
“Go to college,” he said. “No one can ever take a college degree away from you.”
“In the end, it was an inspiring message,” said 12-year-old Alexandra Ramirez.