I'm not one who gets too excited when I hear a politician speak. That's probably because everything that comes out of a politician's mouth seems so rehearsed.
(Of course we members of the press have nobody but ourselves to blame for that.) So when I went to Central Elementary School in Pleasant Grove earlier this month to cover the dedication of the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center, I was looking forward to touring the space center but not too excited about hearing Sen. Jake Garn's dedication speech.I have nothing against Garn and I had never covered one of his speeches before, but I assumed he was just like any other politician. But I, like the more than 100 other people sitting in that auditorium, soon found out that Garn is not a regular politician.
That night Garn opened up like no other politician that I have ever seen. Maybe it was because the subject was space, or maybe Garn has given so many speeches that he has finally learned how to relax and be casual.
But for whatever reason, Garn spoke like he was at a fireside and his openness and informality made him a pleasure to hear. In fact, several times during his talk Garn had to fight back tears. And at times Garn became so involved in his talk that I thought he might never stop.
How many times have you heard a politician speak at an elementary school and become so involved in his speech that he had to fight back tears? Probably never.
Garn, the first congressman in space and probably the biggest supporter of the space program, said he gets upset when people say that the space program is a waste of money. He supported his claim well and explained how society benefits from all the things that the space program provides. It provides jobs, technology and advancements in science. In short, a better world.
He made a believer out of me.
Garn told the story of a visit he made to Duchesne High School shortly after his trip to space. While at the school, he talked about his space experience to a student who was considering dropping out of school. Years later, Garn met the same student at the University of Utah where he was close to finishing a degree in engineering.
"Now tell me that the space program is a waste of money?" Garn said.
When Garn talked about looking at Earth from space it was easy to become envious. He talked about how peaceful the planet looked from space and how God must be disappointed in how people have taken care of the world.
"I'd like to take all (the world leaders) into space and say, `Just what are you doing, can't you see there's enough for all of us?' "
Should we make a reservation on the next space shuttle for Saddam Hussein? Before that night I had a difficult time understanding why people would pay good money to hear a politician speak. But now I can kind of comprehend it, or at least when Garn is the speaker.
One thing I do know. Those who attended that night's dedication ceremonies got a bargain, and Alpine School District and Central Elementary School officials should be proud that Garn was the one who launched their space station.