Photos like this one from NASA of the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s final voyage remind me of sixth grade. In sixth grade, I looked like this:
This is not the look of a popular girl. Not in 1988, not ever. The perm and plaid didn’t do me any favors. I was bigger than my teeny, tiny classmates (girls and boys), their slender legs sticking through teeny, tiny shorts. Pictures do show me opening gifts from girls at my twelfth birthday party. But of the handful of memories that constitute sixth grade—the first grade I remember—this one sticks out: my crush’s brother dared him to ask me out, and my crush seized the moment (there were many) while I sat alone in the library. For a bit I believed him. But his brother and other boys sat snickering two tables away. It’s one of my earliest memories, the snickering. Snickering distinguishes itself among remembered sounds.
So I was in the library alone a lot. But I was also in my school’s Gifted and Talented Program. I didn’t know it meant a state-mandated process by which children who demonstrate the potential to achieve beyond grade level are identified and reported by school districts. In Connecticut, schools don’t have to do anything about that. They just report their lists annually. My school, however, offered a weekly class to its Gifted and Talented students. Flipping the terms, we called it TAG.
In TAG with six or seven other kids I still wasn’t popular, but nobody was. No room for it, what with imaginative, mind-bending projects to complete. The best, by far: Name the Space Shuttle. Now come on. That’s just amazing. We’d named class pets and science fair projects. We’d named each other in secret. The Space Shuttle presented a naming challenge of magnitude and maturity. Adults named spacecraft, not kids. Yet here I was, nose-deep in research, permafluffed hair hiding my face from would-be snickerers.
Schools everywhere put teams into the NASA-run contest. My TAG team chose “Endeavour” and create a Jeopardy-style game called “Endeavour to Win,” its final question leading the contestants to the name. I played the host. I hammed.
“Endeavour to Win” lost, but “Endeavour” won, thrilling us. We didn’t know at the time that some 30% of the entries submitted that name. Still, we won something big—colossal, in fact. Something stratosphere-high, something that would carry our dreams (literally) into space.
Not much changed after that. But a teeny, tiny bit of Endeavour was mine. And by the time Endeavour launched in 1992, I was … ugh, still wearing plaid and perming my hair.