Thursday, January 28, 2016

Lives Well Lived


On the morning of January 28, 1986 I wasn't teaching, as I normally would have been on a Tuesday. I was with one of my students, sitting in the lobby of the Gertrude Krampert Theatre at Casper College. We were awaiting the start of the Natrona County American Legion Oratorical Contest.

T+73.162 seconds
It was just before 10:00 when our school district's superintendent arrived. A member of the American Legion himself, he was a big supporter of the oratorical contest and always made a point of being there any time a student from our district was involved.

When he walked into the lobby,
his face was ashen and he was obviously distraught. Of course
I asked him if he was okay, and it was then that I heard the news about the Challenger.

Because this flight included civilian Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher selected as part
of the Teacher in Space Project, it was watched live in thousands of schools all over the United States, including the high school where I was teaching at the time.

As hard as the news hit me and my student at the speech contest after the fact, it was far, far worse for those who saw it happen in real time.

President Ronald Reagan had been scheduled to deliver the annual State of the Union address that night, but of course he postponed. Some things are more important than politics.

Instead, he gave one of the great speeches in American history, remarkable for both its emotional power and its brevity (Reagan understood that a grieving nation didn't need a lengthy address). When he closed with the quote from John Gillespie Magee, Jr.'s poem "High Flight," I wept for the first time that day. Even now, that portion of the speech still elicits the same reaction...

Right there with you, old friend...

Feast Day

Painting of St. Thomas Aquinas by Francesco Solimena
Today is the feast day of one of the great intellectuals in the history of the Catholic church,  St. Thomas Aquinas.

St. Thomas is a Doctor of the Church, and is widely regarded
as its greatest philosopher and theologian. His ideas still exert considerable influence both within the Church and in the larger field of philosophy.

Canonized on July 18, 1323 by Pope John XXII, St. Thomas is the patron saint of students and universities, so of course as a teacher myself I have always had a special regard for his life and work, especially his writings on the subject of ethics.

Tough Guy

From the pen of Michael Ramirez, whose editorial cartoons you should read often,
as I do.

Until Next Time...

Although I had greatly enjoyed Tom Wolfe's non-fiction book The Right Stuff in 1979,
I didn't expect the movie version to be nearly so good. The book had won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, and Hollywood has a long history of disappointing us with adaptations of such bestsellers. This time, though, I turned out to be very, very wrong.

Original 1983 "one sheet" poster
Writer/director Philip Kaufman's film adaptation of Wolfe's book turned out to be one of my all-time favorite movies, one of those films that I never get tired of watching.

Despite the usual dramatic liberties with the historical record, the film (like Wolfe's book) is mostly faithful to the true story of the Project Mercury program, and the seven men who took part in it. The parallel story of legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager is also handled brilliantly.

Featuring a stellar ensemble cast, the film received 8 Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture. It won four Oscars (losing out to Terms of Endearment for Best Picture, a good film that benefited greatly from Hollywood's obsession with Big Name Stars).

The Right Stuff was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress's prestigious National Film Registry in 2013.

Even though composer Bill Conti won the Academy Award for Best Score, a soundtrack album for the film wasn't officially released until 2013.

Today's send-off is a suite of Conti's stirring music paired with clips from the film. Enjoy...

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