NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei returned to Benilde-St. Margaret’s Friday to encourage students at his old school to take on challenges and not be afraid of failure.
Earlier this year, Vande Hei broke the record for the American astronaut with the longest single space flight after spending 355 days aboard the International Space Station. Friday at the Catholic St. Louis Park school’s homecoming convocation, he returned items from the school that he took with him into space. As part of the celebration, Friday was also officially proclaimed “Mark Vande Hei Day.”
“Being a part of a community like Benilde-St. Margaret’s, like Minnesota, like my family, it gives you a solid foundation to explore further and further,” Vande Hei said.
Vande Hei started off his presentation by reflecting on his memories of sitting in the same bleachers as the students he was addressing. Benilde-St. Margaret’s welcomed the alum back with heavy applause, an opening prayer, and three student volunteers ready to assist with the astronaut’s demonstrations.
After graduating from the school in 1985, Vande Hei went on to earn a degree in physics from St. John’s University, followed by a master’s degree from Stanford. He then served in the Army and taught at the Military Academy in West Point. He was selected as part of the NASA astronaut class of 2009.
Vande Hei has visited Benilde-St. Margaret’s. In 2017, Vande Hei and Benilde-St. Margaret’s came up with the idea of giving him a few pieces of home to take along with him for his next space flight. After drawing names in a raffle, two students gave up their ID cards to the astronaut, and he took them with him on his record-breaking space flight.
“I didn’t fly myself to space,” Vande Hei said. “So many people dedicated their lives to give us — our nation — the ability to do this, and I just got the opportunity to do it on behalf of everybody else. So being able to symbolically bring a couple of other people on board, for me, that was great.”
Anna Carr, one of the students who had her ID taken to space five years ago, attended Friday’s convocation to collect it back. Now an alum of the school herself and a recent college graduate, she enjoyed hearing about the journey of both Vande Hei and her old school ID.
Carr said she plans to save the well-traveled ID by putting it in a scrapbook.
In his speech to students, Vande Hei had a key message:
“Be willing to risk failure,” he said. “You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone… Challenge yourself.”