It finally happened. Mount Hebron Middle School was officially re-named for Apollo 11 astronaut and Montclair native Buzz Aldrin in a formal ceremony at the middle school’s front entrance on September 16.
Interim School Superintendent Ronald Bolandi officiated at the ceremony, talking about how he had been up earlier in the morning and seeing the full moon in the sky, thinking to himself how he’d be in the the presence of the man who walked on the lunar surface. He stressed the importance of Aldrin’s contributions to the country not just as an astronaut but as a serviceman and as a distinguished citizen. Noting the many combat missions Aldrin flew in the Air Force during the Korean War, Superintendent Bolandi said that Aldrin protected our rights and our freedom. It was later observed that one can see the full moon later tonight from behind the school, with the moon appearing to just touch the roof, as if giving its blessing to the name change.
Mayor Robert Jackson said that the moon landing back in 1969 gave him and his friends the idea that anything was possible. “I always hear about the great people who live here and how lucky we are to have such a great citizenry,” he said to Aldrin, “and I couldn’t be more proud, sir, to say that you are one of us, and you represent us so well.” The mayor said that Montclair residents were “incredibly grateful” to Aldrin for his achievements. Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill, as co-chair of the Man On the Moon Committee, also spoke, saying that he hoped that the successful effort to re-name the school would inspire its students to go on and do great things.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, a Montclair resident, provided some comic relief in his remarks. He talked about how he was looking for a commonality with Aldrin, even though his children are middle school students who live nearby and love math but in fact attended different middle schools. Fishman also joked that the closest connection between office and the space program was overseeing proposed regulations for drones. His remarks turned serious, however, when he noted that both he and Aldrin are public servants who give their talents for the benefit of the common good.
“It always sticks in my craw when people denigrate who government workers are and what they do,” Fishman said. “But speaking for myself, there is one thing my public service is not – it is not dangerous.” He went on to note the risks Aldrin took of his own free will not just in the space program but in joining the military and flying combat missions in Korea, and that policemen and firefighters choose to serve in similarly dangerous ways. Fishman said that Aldrin has shown how “noble and gratifying” public service can be.
Buzz makes his entrance! pic.twitter.com/HjxpYAD9U6
— baristanet (@baristanet) September 16, 2016
The man of the hour, Buzz Aldrin himself, spoke after receiving an American flag from the Annin flag company. The flag had flown over Omaha Beach on the seventieth anniversary of D-Day in 2014. Aldrin recalled how Mount Hebron Middle School shaped his life by giving him a sense of maturity and awareness. He admitted to having been a less-than-serious student at the start, but he said that Mount Hebron had given him a sense of purpose and prepared him for high school and that it inspired his ambitions to be an airplane pilot. He recalled taking an English class in the eighth grade and being inspired by science fiction to write a term paper on the subject.
— baristanet (@baristanet) September 16, 2016
“Not very popular,” Aldrin admitted to appreciable laughter. “But this school prepared me for a very dedicated, accelerated accomplishment at Montclair High, and I‘m so honored that this school was influential. And now, you’re going to change the name of Mount Hebron.” He said that he’s had schools named for him elsewhere, but he said that the honor of seeing Mount Hebron re-named for him was “particularly warming, because this is my hometown.”
“This town will continue to make the Buzz Aldrin Middle School the best school and make me proud, and I will do everything I can to help you, he said to great applause.
Aldrin later met with reporters, saying that he hoped that students would be inspired to pursue space exploration and talking about his efforts to promote a program to inhabit Mars. “That’s an awful lot to ask the nation’s leaders to do that and individuals to make such a dramatic commitment in their lives,” he said. He added that the nation’s leaders can and should commit to two more decades beyond the moon landing’s fiftieth anniversary in 2019 to lead international efforts to the Mars colonization effort, hence he hoped for a Martian colony settlement to be established before 2040. He said he wasn’t concerned by the private-enterprise efforts to explore space, noting that the space shuttle program had been a poorly managed compromise and that the shuttle was not a safe craft and did not allow the crew to abort the shuttle in emergencies. He was also dismayed that there was no adequate program to replace the shuttle for trips to the International Space Station upon the shuttle fleet’s retirement.
“It left us having to buy rides from the Russians, and of course the price kept going up and up and up,” he said. “And still that‘s how we get to the space station.” He added that people in the government failed to realize that there are much better things to do in space than just “bring a rock back.”