Leland Melvin Visits Dunbar Middle editorial

Leland Melvin, a retired astronaut, speaks to students at Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School for Innovation in Lynchburg, VA, May 28, 2019. (Taylor Irby/The News & Advance)

Thumbs up — and we can’t do this too many times — to Lynchburg’s own Leland Melvin, one of only a handful of human beings who have broken the bonds of Earth to travel in space, inspiring children in his hometown to dream as big as he once did.

Melvin spoke to a student assembly at his old middle school — Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School for Innovation — on Tuesday with a simple message for students: Dream big because you can do anything you set your mind to.

Speaking to about 720 students, Melvin recounted that when he applied for the NASA astronaut program, he was up against 2,500 other applicants. In the end, just 25 people were chosen, and he was one of the lucky few. “The reason why was because I had great teachers at Dunbar that told me I could do or be anything. I was prepared. I had the right stuff that I needed, exactly what you’re getting today,” he told the middle schoolers.

Recounting his student days in Lynchburg, where he graduated from Heritage High School, then his NFL career with the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys and finally his traveling to outer space, Melvin had the audience in the palm of his hand, his mantra of “you can be anything you want” resonating with students.

Sixth-grader Jordan Porter, 11, was in the audience; he told The News & Advance that Melvin’s message struck home to him. “It was very exciting, and it helped me learn a lot to not listen to what people say, the yays or nays, but to follow your dreams and do what you want to do,” he said.

Hear, hear, Mr. Porter! And to borrow one of Melvin’s favorite taglines, “Ad astra!” ... “To the stars!”

* * *

Thumbs up to the organizers and volunteers with the Altavista Chamber of Commerce who have worked long and hard to make Altavista’s annual Uncle Billy’s Day festival a reality.

This year marks the festival’s 70th anniversary; it runs today from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. in English Park and is free to the public. Organizers expect a crowd of between 10,000 and 15,000 to flock home to Altavista. From bands and food vendors to crafts and fireworks, there’s something for everyone at this signature Central Virginia event.

For a full schedule, visit www.UncleBillysDayFestival.com. Don’t miss it!

Load comments