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Victory Lap

So what are you doing next year after graduation? I’m not graduating this year, but I still have to answer the question. Such is the life of the fifth year student. The joke is that we run our victory lap as super seniors because graduating college in four years is like leaving a party at 10:30. However, as my senior year draws to a close I am beginning to think that graduating in five years is like leaving the party at 3am when everyone else went home hours ago. When friend’s parents ask me what I’m doing next year after graduation and I say that I will be at Northwestern for a fifth year, I feel like I’ve messed up in some way because students at Northwestern simply don’t take five years to graduate very often.

I knew when I accepted my internship to NASA that I would extend my time in college by a year. When I first accepted my coop I was a sophomore and I didn’t see the big deal. I had friends who were a year younger and how bad could an extra year of school be? When I was a junior I was glad for the extra time. Everyone else was thinking about graduate school, jobs, and the future. I still had two years to figure that out and I had an amazing internship on my resume, but with senior year coming to a close and all of my closest friends and former roommates graduating in a few days, I cannot help but feel a myriad of mixed emotions when I think about my decision to delay graduation.

I am flying to Chicago from Houston so when my friends do walk across the stage I will be there to cheer them on. I am proud of their accomplishments and success. Many have jobs lined up for them and I know that they are the exception to the rule for college graduates today. Those who don’t have jobs yet have proven themselves capable and smart. I’m sure that they will succeed in life and find employment soon. Although I am proud, I am also crushed that I will not be joining them. I do not regret my internship nor do I think that I have failed in any way by taking it, but I didn’t realize just how lonely I would feel seeing my friends from both high school and college graduate one by one. I need to answer the question of what I’m doing next year after graduation to myself, because I have no idea what I will be doing in the coming months when my friends have all left campus for good. I will keep you updated.

Astronaut Hillary

I recently found a meme on my Facebook wall stating that when Hillary Clinton was young she wrote to NASA inquiring how she might become an astronaut and NASA wrote back that females could not be astronauts. The comment below the meme was congratulating me for my success it seemed, not just at NASA, but as a woman at NASA.  Reading it, I felt that my accomplishments as a scientist and as an engineer were being attacked. Every day when I am at my college or when I am at my internship, I find myself striving to prove that I am where I am not because I was the best woman for the job, but because I was the best person for the job. I strive to prove to myself and others that I was hired by NASA not because I am a woman with reasonably good grades, but because I have a set of skills, competence, and a resume that provide value to the agency. I have no way to prove this to myself definitively because of hiring quotas, but I can try by measuring my success against the men and women around me. I am blessed not oppressed, but I digress.

Hillary Clinton wrote to NASA at 13 inquiring how to become an astronaut. While it may be true that NASA wrote her back saying that females could not be astronauts it is interesting to note that by the time Hillary was 30, Sally Ride had been selected to the astronaut corps. Sally was born in 1951 and Hillary was born in 1947, both would have spent their childhoods knowing that NASA did not accept girls to the astronaut corps. Sally and Hillary were roughly the same age so what was stopping Hillary from persevering to getting as close as she could to space? She could have readied herself as an applicant by obtaining a degree in the sciences or learning to fly a plane. The acceptance of female astronauts occurred a mere 17 years after her inquiry. At the age of 13 Hillary Clinton had roughly zero of the credentials needed to get her to space, but at the age of 65 she doesn’t seem to have added to that list. Dr. Ride had degrees in Physics, Astrophysics, and English. Hillary has a degree in political science and went to law school. While these are no doubt useful to being secretary of state and a politician, they do not help NASA’s science mission. Astronauts are required to have degrees in a STEM field, and Mrs. Clinton did not obtain one. Astronauts are scientists and explorers and Hillary’s career choices show that she is neither of those things.

Furthermore, when Hillary was 13 the year was 1961 and the space program would have just been starting out. The Mercury astronauts were all military test pilots and they were the best of the best. Only men were allowed into pilot training and so only men would have met these initial criteria. In order to become an astronaut you had to be one of the best test pilots in the entire military. Only the best pilots became test pilots. This meant that you were one of the best pilots in the entire world.

The dangers of space were not yet known but it was clear that astronauts would have to endure large g-forces, cramped quarters, and medical complications. While the prestige associated with becoming an astronaut is high, Hillary likely wasn’t aware of the danger, discomfort, and complications that space exploration brings. The International Space Station (ISS) and the Shuttle have toilets and specially designed attachments that allow women to urinate easily. The lessons of Mercury, Apollo, and Skylab had been taken to heart and these vehicles were made safer as a result. Prior to Shuttle, only military pilots could apply to the astronaut corps, so civilian men who wanted to become astronauts were also out of luck, as were military men who simply weren’t the best in their regimen, or military men who had not gone to college, become pilots and in most cases obtained their masters.

Even now only 339 people have been selected as astronauts to date. Don’t worry Hillary you’re not alone. And to anyone who would send this meme to a successful woman in their life please think twice because they may not take it as a compliment.

Sweet Home Texas

Sweet Home Alabama is one of my favorite movies. I watch it at least 3 times a year and even though I recognize that many of the characters have just been picked from the romantic comedy archetypes list, that doesn’t make me love the movie any less. Much like a good steak, I didn’t fall in love with this movie because of the meat. I fell in love with this movie because of the seasonings and the marinade that make it unique. Just like Melanie, Reese Witherspoon’s character, I ran off to find a career after high school. I didn’t get the Hollywood job of fashion designer, but I did get a scholarship to attend one of the most prestigious schools in Chicago which really did seem like living a fairy tale in a lot of ways. I am from the South and even though I love where I grew up this was an opportunity I needed to take.

In Chicago, when I tell people that I am from Texas the responses can be maddening. For example, I was once told by a professor that living in Texas was just like living in a Third World country, where no true middle class existed. When I attempted to argue with him and defend my status as a truly middle class Texan, I was told that my privilege and bias was getting in the way of me seeing just how backwards the state really was. This man had never been to Texas (I asked). He had never immersed himself in the culture and minutia of my home state, yet he presumed to know everything about the place I have spent my life. Texas was recently named the fourth best state to make a living due to its lower than average cost of living, low unemployment rate, and decent median household income. Illinois ranked 22nd and New York State ranked 47th out of 50 states. Texas median household income is quite close to the national median household income, if there was no middle class would this number not be skewed? Additionally, it’s low unemployment rate gives me hope that many people fall closer to the middle of this median income than not (although I’m not going to go looking for those precise statistics today).

It’s important to note here that while Texas is doing quite well, the South as a whole has less money and education than Northern states and in most cases still does. To mock someone because they are from the South is akin to mocking someone because he or she is living in a poor urban area. However, we deny the Southern poor the dignity of outrage. We have a dictionary of words to describe people from rural southern areas of the country: hick, redneck, white trash, inbred, and racist to name a few. There is no taboo against calling someone a redneck or white trash. It’s rude to be sure, but you will not get the same response as you would calling someone a hood rat or a welfare queen. The term redneck is used to describe a poor (normally white) person with very little education living in the south. Imagine if this “redneck” was black and living on the south side of Chicago? Would it then be acceptable to belittle him for his lack of wealth and education?

Those from the urban elite who laugh at distasteful redneck jokes or profess that you would fear visiting the south, remember that you are laughing at poor uneducated families. You are laughing at people in poverty which is often just as severe if not more so than those who live on the South Side of Chicago or the wrong neighborhood of New York. After all when you live in a city like Chicago or New York there is normally a plethora of education programs available to help a few bright and motivated children give themselves a brighter future and go to college. In most rural areas there is one high school and no non-profits to be found.

I’ve discovered that there is something to be said for home sweet home and nothing to be said for those who mock it except good bye.