"Rocket Man" Shows Students How to Reach for the Stars


Junior Achievement of Southern California recently held a JA in a Day event at Columbus Middle School in Los Angeles. The school faces numerous challenges: most students receive free or reduced lunches and many come from foster or low-income homes. The school is over-crowded and struggles with funding cuts, student behavioral issues, and overburdened teachers.

During the JA event, many of the students were unruly--interrupting the volunteers and using inappropriate language. One of the volunteers, an engineer from Lockheed Martin, tried to break the ice by handing out fun, temporary rocket tattoos. The students started to pay attention. Then, the volunteer discussed the students future earning power if they did not continue their education: making $10 an hour at a fast-food restaurant. The students enthusiastically responded that they believed that was a comfortable living.

The JA volunteer itemized the expenses and taxes that would be deducted from their wages, leaving them little money afterwards. The room fell silent. The JA volunteer told the students about his salary as an engineer--he made enough money to live comfortably, save for retirement, and travel. Most of the students had never dreamed of living this way. It was an eye-opening moment that helped them imagine better lives for themselves.

At the end of the day, the volunteers were exhausted, wondering if they had motivated or inspired the students. Soon after, the volunteers received thank-you letters from the students, expressing gratitude for what they had learned. The engineer, who helped open the students' eyes to their potential, received notes saying, "Thank you for showing me I can have a good job and a future," and, "Rocket Man, thank you for coming and please come back."

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