Taking short steps in a long queue, Aldrin Elementary students made their way into the cafeteria, only a little aware that the man they would soon hear speak was famous for making many giant leaps.
“Mr. Buzz Aldrin was able to walk on the moon and it was on an old wrecked pirate ship 100 years ago,” said Grace Abushalback, a kindergartner talking about the man who inspired the name of her school.
IN FACT, Buzz Aldrin did walk on the moon, one of the first two humans to do so in 1969 as part of the Apollo XI mission. Last Friday, he visited Aldrin Elementary School in Reston, helping celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the school named after him.
“It’s pretty impressive,” said Aldrin about having the school in his name. “It’s a living memorial, not just a statue or a hall, but where education takes place.
“And if there’s any hallmark to my success, it’s education,” said Aldrin, who received his doctorate in astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Aldrin, along with Neil Armstrong, made the historic moon walk, witnessed by the largest worldwide television audience in history. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” said Armstrong, commander of the moon-landing mission. During the mission, Aldrin and Armstrong explored the moon’s surface for more than two hours.
“These are the things that came along in my life, and they add up, but we never know where they’re going to lead,” Aldrin said in an interview just before the event.
During the ceremony, several school officials recollected watching television and seeing Aldrin walk on the moon 36 years ago. “He was the astronaut I had watched walk on the moon when I was in college,” said Aldrin Principal Marty Marinoff, who took the opportunity to tell the students to “never stop dreaming.”
“I REMEMBER how unbelievable it was to have this American hero as the namesake for our school,” said Gina Ross, the first principal of Aldrin who has since retired. “I made Buzz a promise: if he helped us, this school would make him proud, and the rest is history.”
“We’re in the presence of greatness,” said Denny Dearden, Cluster I Assistant Superintendent, during his remarks.
“Happy birthday,” he said to the parents and students of Aldrin. “May the next 10 years be as successful as the last 10 years.”
When Aldrin had his turn at the podium, he showed students pictures of his children’s book, "Buzz Aldrin: Reaching for the Moon," which documents his career. The paintings in the book, done by Wendell Minor, grabbed the attention of the sea of kindergartners sitting closest to the stage.
Recalling an event that changed his life early on, Aldrin gave a short history lesson, describing to the audience about when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
A younger student in the crowd shouted out an incredulous “What?” not at all familiar with the event.
But as these young students grow up and get better versed in history, they may realize that, regardless of circumstance, they too can make a difference, a leap, for mankind.
"Through the years, Dr. Aldrin has made many visits to the school," said Marinoff. "He has attended several end-of-the-year celebrations of student scholarship and achievement, much to the delight of our community of learners."