Strickland speaks at MITRE conference

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

Pelham High School’s 2016 Valedictorian Peyton Strickland enjoyed his second trip as a prize winner to Washington, D.C. this week. Chosen as Alabama’s Presidential Scholar during his senior year of high school, Strickland’s first D.C. visit was to the Presidential Scholars summer program following a long application process.

This second trip proved much more impromptu. Entering the MITRE Space Risk Challenge over Christmas break with a New Year’s Eve deadline, Strickland was tasked to “describe a threat scenario in a satellite servicing environment.”

Strickland had to research, write, film himself delivering his takeaways and share his speech with MITRE, an organization “that operates research and development centers sponsored by the federal government.”

“I’m only a sophomore,” Strickland said. “Upperclassmen will compete. I can hardly expect to win.”

Strickland’s animated explanation that “satellites are always falling back towards earth” along with his explanations about the need for refueling these satellites revealed his genuine zeal for his topic.

“What’s the prize?” I asked.

“Delivering the speech at a conference where the NASA Administrator is the keynote,” Strickland said, “in D.C.”

Watching Strickland discover that he won, from a field of candidates representing the nation’s best engineering schools, was thrilling.

Strickland was my student his junior year when life is uncomfortably uncertain. He needed a stellar ACT score; he needed to find his perfect-fit university; he needed scholarship money; and finally, Strickland needed discernment to discover his path. Aided by his track coaches, teammates and their parents, his senior counselor, his teachers, his incredible work ethic, his faith, friends, family and extended family, his own resourcefulness, and a scholarship from MacLean, this young man found his way.

Witnessing Strickland’s journey, snippets of his speech reflected where he’d been, how far he’d come and what he’d learned.

“Stars can’t shine without darkness, and solutions cannot be generated without informed policy makers,” Strickland said.

Strickland also said that he looked forward to being a part of solutions.

The keynote, NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot, a University of Alabama graduate, hails from Montevallo, Alabama. Lightfoot spoke about resiliency—and teamwork.

Watch these fascinating speeches at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxcfN38YHFQ&t=1149s.