Who has Packed your Parachute?

It is somewhat of a tradition at the start of each year that the Year 12 students commence the ‘count down’ of days left at School.

This fills the girls with much excitement about the thought of no longer wearing a School uniform and drawing to a close their lives restrained by bells and the weight of what seems like never ending assessment tasks. The thrill of finally reaching this important milestone is now even closer for our girls when their ‘count down’ of days reached single figures this week.

Whilst the excitement heightens at this time of year, so too does a mixture of emotions – sadness about closing this chapter in their lives, a nervous energy and a fixed focus on exam dates and the realisation they are just weeks away from the end of School.

In the coming weeks, our School will again enjoy the opportunity to acknowledge the leadership of our Year 12 students and to thank them for their contribution to School life. The Valedictory Dinner and Years 9 to 12 Speech Night both provide important occasions to celebrate their academic, co-curricular and service achievements.

I share for you below a story I spoke about with the Year 12 girls this week at their Year level Assembly. The story was of a US Navy jet pilot, Charles Plumb who fought during the Vietnam War. After 75 combat missions, Plumb’s plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile and he was ejected from the jet and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent six years in a prisoner-of-war camp. He survived this ordeal and is still alive today. One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said:

“You’re Charles Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier, Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!”

“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.

“I packed your parachute,” the man replied. Plumb gasped in both surprise and gratitude. The man shook his hand and said,

“I guess it worked!”

Plumb assured him, “It sure did. If the parachute you packed hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Former Navy Fighter Pilot and an ex-POW, Charles Plumb

Former Navy Fighter Pilot and an ex-POW, Charles Plumb

Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about the man he had met in the restaurant. He kept wondering what he had looked like all those years ago at the Army Base in Vietnam. He wondered how many times he might have seen him and not even said, ‘good morning, how are you?’ or anything at all, because you see, he was a fighter pilot and the man was just a sailor. Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent at a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands the fate of someone he did not know.

Like Plumb, I asked the girls to wonder about the people who packed their parachute. Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day.

Who packed your parachute today? (I don’t mean your lunch!) and Who helped get you here (to the end of Year 12)?

Across our lives, we need many kinds of parachutes. Plumb would have called upon his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute and his spiritual parachute to support him before finally reaching safety on land.

Sometimes at School, and in life, we can miss what is truly important. We may fail to say hello, please or thank you, congratulate someone on something wonderful that has happened to them, give a compliment or just do something nice for no reason. I hope over the coming weeks our Year 12 girls take the time to recognise and thank the people who have packed all their parachutes.

Speech Night

The Years 9 to 12 Speech Night will be held on Tuesday 18 October in the Dorothy Pizzey Centre, commencing at 7.00pm. All students in Years 9 to 12 are required to attend this important event. This evening is an important School occasion as we acknowledge the academic, leadership, service and co-curricular achievements of our students in Years 9 to 12.

This year, I look forward to hearing Dr Catherine Ball provide the Keynote Address. Catherine was recently acknowledged by The Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence in Australia. Some of Catherine’s other acknowledgements include:

National Telstra Business Woman of the Year 2015 – Corporate and Private Award

Innovator of Influence 2015 – InnovationWeek2015.org

Australian Financial Review’s BOSS Magazine Young Executive of the Year, 2015

Dr Ball holds a BSc Honours (Environmental Protection) and a PhD (Spatial Ecology, Descriptive and Predictive Statistics) from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the United Kingdom. Her passion is found in working on projects that have a humanitarian aspect, ranging from the use of RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems) for emergency response, to recording cultural heritage and agricultural assessments.

Dr Ball has travelled and worked globally on cutting edge projects that combine science, entrepreneurship, empowerment, education and training. Along with our current School Captains, Elizabeth and Clare, I enjoyed the opportunity to hear Catherine speak at the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Captains’ Conference in January at Bond University. As a strong advocate of girls pursuing careers in science, I am confident our audience members will be delighted to hear her address.

NASA Space Camp

During the School holidays seven of our Year 10 students attended the NASA Advanced Space Camp in America. The girls spent their time learning real-world applications of STEM principles, flying pilot simulations, testing their skills in engineering design challenges, tackling the high ropes course and scuba diving in the Underwater Astronaut Trainer. Participant, Demi Markakis provides this insightful reflection on her time at the Space Camp:

We began preparation for launch early on a Saturday morning, landing in “Rocket City”, Huntsville only a few hours later – exclusive of the 15 hours time difference!

Our adventure launched at Space Camp, consisting of four out-of-this-world days of presentations, activities – including scuba diving, the pamper pole and astronaut PT – and astronaut simulations, such as the MAT and 1/6 gravity chair. In addition to this, we had the opportunity to be taught by expert trainers and execute three mock missions, including an abort and various anomalies, both medically and system-related, with similar technologies to those at NASA.

Space Camp 1

Our final and successful mission was a three-hour EDM on Mars, staged in three different theatres: the Orion capsule, a base on Mars moon – Phobos and Mission Control in Houston. By the end of the week, we had all become Space Camp Advanced Academy Alumni, and even seized the ‘Outstanding Team’ award alongside some newfound friends from Cairns, standing as testimony to our harmonious cooperation as a united front in all of our team challenges.

Advancing into second-stage, we touched down in Orlando and embraced our ‘mission checklist’, fuelled with ambition: we were lifted-off in the confines of iFly, experiencing indoor sky-diving in a vertical wind tunnel; journeyed around the foreign environment of the Everglades on airboats; ventured to NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre and had lunch with astronaut, Mr Bruce Melnick before escaping from space for a day at Universal Studios. Here, we were fortunate enough to learn about the mechanics and technological processes behind the thrilling rides we would later enjoy.

The orbital stage, San Francisco, allowed us to see the busier side of America as we were stationed in the heart of Union Square and participated in multiple ‘EVAs’ (External-Vehicular Activities) throughout the week. In the windy atmosphere of the City of Golden Gate, we were first boated out to Alcatraz Island: a confine of history that spans from a bird sanctuary to a military base, federal prison for some of the most well-known American prisoners, such as Al Capone, and and now a national park. We were able to experience a haunting view of the old prison through testimonials from past prisoners and officers, even meeting an officer who served for three years.

After a short visit to the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf, we ventured to the Exploratorium and examined thought-provoking concepts pioneered by people all over the world. Our adventure continued on the ‘hop-on-hop-off’ bus around the city, stopping off at iconic San Franciscan locations, such as Lombard Street, and even walked across the Golden Gate Bridge

Our investigation into STEM – through our very own ‘Cupola’, was widened throughout the week with guided visits to the NIF, Intel and Computer History Museums. We then prepared for descent into the atmosphere of our regular, daily lives, as we reminisced on the amazing experiences that we had just endured during the previous 15 days.

Demi Markakis, Kate Rowland, Isabelle Gough, Jasmine Pearce-Higgins, Tess Horton, Sophie Karunaratne, Samara Gill

Altogether, our mission was very successful and has demonstrated the extensive window of opportunity for women in the STEM field. Our love for learning and curiosity over such complex concepts fostered an environment that encouraged both intellectual challenges and personal growth in many ways.

We would like to thank Ms Andrews, Ms Brandt and Ms Carter for facilitating what has been an outstanding experience that we will forever remember. It truly was a blast.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ll see one of us on Mars one day, kindling the undeniable spark that the trip ignited within us.

Michelle Carroll

Mrs Michelle Carroll