Growing up in the Sun City helped an astronaut and a NASA flight director reach for the stars, they said during an event kicking off Tom Lea Month in honor of the late acclaimed El Paso artist.
Astronaut John "Danny" Olivas and Ginger Kerrick reminisced about their hometown of El Paso in a speech titled "Our El Paso: Reaching for the Stars" on Tuesday evening at the Plaza Theatre. The event was the culmination of a binational youth conference at the Lydia Patterson Institute.
El Paso and its history were a key influence in Lea's work, which has adorned public buildings, galleries and museums and the White House.
Kerrick could not attend because of travel restrictions caused by the federal government shutdown but spoke in a video recorded Friday.
"That's how we roll at NASA," Kerrick said in the video. "We have a plan and a backup plan and a backup plan to that backup plan to make sure we get the job done."
Kerrick and Olivas each spoke lovingly of the families and city that nurtured them as children, taught them in public schools and inspired them to go after their dreams. Kerrick is a graduate of Hanks High School. Olivas is a Burges High graduate.
Both attended the University of Texas at El Paso, although Kerrick transferred and graduated from Texas Tech University.
Kerrick was a flight director for shuttle missions and now works in administration in a more than 20-year career at NASA. Kerrick was the first Hispanic woman flight director at NASA.
"Thanks to the city of El Paso for providing me with everything I needed to go out and make my mark in this world," she said.
Olivas grew up in El Paso but said that some people sometimes argue he is not a native El Pasoan because he was born in California. "I wasn't born here but I really believe I'm from here," Olivas said.
Olivas on a big screen displayed an old census record showing his great-great grandfather, Valente Olivas, who came to El Paso from Santo Tomas, Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1886. His parents grew up in El Paso, where Olivas attended elementary, middle and high school. Olivas met his wife at UTEP.
Olivas told stories about how his parents taught him the value of working hard, never giving up and paying it forward to the next generation.
"We as adults have to realize that we are the biggest influence in the way our children grow up," Olivas said. "It's not an astronaut, a flight director, a policeman or a fireman that will inspire them how they will be. It's us."
Olivas retired from NASA and is now director of space initiatives at UTEP. "We have a personal responsibility to inspire the next generation," he said.
For more information on Tom Lea Month events, visit tomlea.net
(c)2013 El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
Original headline: Astronaut Danny Olivas, NASA flight director talk about growing up in El Paso
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