Thursday, August 6, 2009
The Sky Is Not the Limit
The motto of my high school, in Latin, was: “Per Ardua Ad Astra”, if I recall correctly. Translated into English it is: “To the stars through hard work”.
In those days, reaching for the stars was meant purely metaphorically, and the curriculum reflected that: English Grammar and Literature, Mathematics, Geography, History, one classical language (Latin or Greek) and one or two “modern” languages (usually French and/or Spanish), Chemistry and Physics and Religious Knowledge (mine was a Catholic school). This was cutting edge education of the time and my high school did produce several alumni who achieved varying degrees of “stardom” in various fields and professions in many parts of the world.
It’s more than fifty years and two generations later as I accompany my 13 year old granddaughter to an orientation function for the high school she will be entering when the new school year begins in September.
“The Sky Is Not the Limit” is the theme of this school, but unlike the metaphorical stars I was reaching for, the mission of these students is to master aviation and robotics technologies designed to take them beyond today’s boundaries.
It’s a public school, and it is special. It is not a neighborhood school, drawing its students only from its immediate area. Applicants from beyond the neighborhood are rigorously screened and interviewed. In addition to their teachers, students are mentored by high achievers in the world of space and aeronautics.
The school has a specific focus: aviation and robotics. The site of the orientation left no doubt about that. We assembled, not in an auditorium, but in a cavernous working airplane hangar, cleared for the occasion. Outside, on three sides of the hangar were parked numerous planes, from tiny two seater trainers, to light aircraft, vintage planes, a sleek stunt plane, helicopters and corporate jets. There were constant whines and roars as planes and helicopters kept taxiing in or out and commercial jets landed or took off from the runways nearby.
But what symbolized most clearly the literal thrust of the motto: The sky is not the limit, was the keynote speaker: one of six Blue Angels pilots. This young man with whom students and parents chatted, got autographs and shook hands, would shortly be striding with his five fellow Blue Angels to their sleek, state-of-the-art jet fighters and with a thunderous roar, would be streaking into the sky and performing incredibly dangerous and precise manoeuvres at 700 mph low over Lake Washington.
(If you have seen the movie “Top Gun” you would have some idea of the kind of flying these special pilots do)
His presentation included a short video of the Blue Angels performing. Below are clips of that interspersed with photos of the pilot during his address. In the banner picture above this pilot is second from the right. Above him is his autograph.