Ninth graders in Sam Houston High School's new P-Tech program had a chance to talk science with the first African American to walk in space Monday.
Bernard Harris Jr., a 1974 graduate of Sam Houston, is a former astronaut who spent more than 400 hours in space.
The students were quiet and engaged as Harris described the sensation of rocketing into space and quizzed them on the effects of zero-gravity.
They also asked lots of questions.
One student wanted to know what his biggest challenge was in high school. (He said trigonometry).
Another asked whether or not astronauts take showers in space. (He said zero-gravity made that difficult).
Wynzolyn Calhoun, 15, asked Harris what it was like to go from a predominantly black and Latino high school like Sam Houston to places where he was one of the only people of color around.
To the surprise of the students, Harris said Sam Houston was actually predominantly white when he was there, despite being located in San Antonio’s historically black East Side.
“But to your point, I did get into environments where it was just me. For example, in my medical school class I was the only African American in my class,” Harris said. “When I went to astronaut school I was the only one in my class.”
Wynzolyn, who wants to study business in college and own a shoe store, said he was inspired by meeting Harris.
“He shows that you can actually make it out,” Wynzolyn said. “Anything that you want to be, you can do it. He just showed us that coming from Sam (Houston High School), there is something good in Sam. Like, people always talk about the bad stuff, but never talk about (the fact that) we have an astronaut that came out of Sam Houston.”
Wynzolyn and his classmates are freshmen at the high school’s new P-Tech cyber security program.
The P-Tech program gives students the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree before graduating from high school — something that could help improve Sam Houston’s graduation rate. More than 17% of the high school’s class of 2018 dropped out before graduating.
Harris told the students they were capable of doing whatever they wanted to do in life.
“Each and every one of you were born for a reason,” he said, pointing at individual students one by one. “There is something special that you’re supposed to do, that you’re supposed to do, that definitely you’re supposed to do.”
“But you have to choose to do that, no matter what people say about you. Success is a choice that you make. Not somebody around you. Not your parents, not your principals, not your teachers… and I believe that choice you have to make now, because that sets the stage for what you need to do.”
Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter at @cmpcamille.