The 27 graduates didn’t don caps and gowns for Friday afternoon’s commencement exercises.
Instead, the students were adorned in space helmets and protective suits, each made from heavy paper.
The graduates were putting the finishing touches on a week of space exploration at Camp Space Place day camp at the Challenger Space Center in Peoria. Students preschool through ninth grade participated in the camps through the summer at the Space Center and General Dynamics Decisions Systems’ Scottsdale campus. More than 700 students took part.
The space explorers intraining from the summer’s final graduating class
included four Scottsdale children.
It was fun, they all agreed, but their answers to in-depth questions about space and space exploration, revealed their experiences went beyond fun.
Kayla Pabon, 6, and Ben Hatfield, 8, each had something to say about the planets that share Earth’s solar system.
"Jupiter’s red spot is a storm," Ben explained. Kayla quickly jumped in and added, "Pluto is the coldest planet."
Ben countered, "Venus is the hottest planet, and not Mercury." He added that it’s Venus’ gasses and clouds that make it the galaxy’s hot spot.
Kayla said she wasn’t concerned about inclement weather on Venus or Pluto. She explained how the suit she wore, although made of paper that she decorated with a NASA insignia, would protect her if she were to travel to Venus or Pluto.
"It has water in it," she said, "that heats the suit when it’s cold and cools the suit when it’s hot."
Clark Zimmerman, 6, of Scottsdale also wore his protective suit to the graduation ceremony. He said his suit protects him from the effects of gravity, and explained how it’s dangerous in space because "it’s not the same gravity and if you fall, you can get hurt."
Lily Welch, at 5 the youngest of Scottsdale’s participants, was shy and mostly hid behind her mother. In a whisper, she said the best part of the week for her was the "shuttle trip," a simulated shuttle launch that is one of the main attractions at the Space Center.
Steve Dermer was the camp instructor for the class. The retired teacher from Indiana said he’s always amazed by the interest level, even in younger students, in space exploration.
"Space, animals and dinosaurs," he said, "that’s what kids want to learn about."