Summary: A rich donor pays to send one student per 3rd grade class in the district to space camp. The administrators for Lakewood Elementary meet to decide who should go on the trip. Who will they pick? Will their decision change lives?
Can also be found here.
Mr. Ratburn’s class filed into the Lakewood Elementary gym behind Miss Sweetwater’s class. Even the teachers didn’t seem to know why they were there as the students sat cross-legged on the gym floor in neat rows. At the front of the room, Principal Haney was with a man no one recognized, chatting and laughing with him before the start of the assembly. Students murmured to each other, all of them wondering what this was about without any good answers.
After a few minutes, Principal Haney grabbed a microphone from Miss Tingley. Feedback filled the room with an uncomfortable ringing, and once it was over, the assembly began. Principal Haney cleared his throat, “Good morning, children. I want to thank all of you for coming on such short notice, but I just got a message from my good friend Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews, why don’t you tell the children why you’re here?”
“Alright,” he smiled, accepting the microphone. “Good morning, students. I am Jeremy Matthews, and I am what’s called a benefactor. My family and I have quite a bit of money, and instead of keeping it for ourselves, we like to give it away to those who need it. I was once your age and where you’re sitting now, a student of Lakewood Elementary eagerly taking in the world. When I was your age, the first astronauts were going into space, and I wanted nothing more but to be like them.
“But my family’s business endeavors kept me busy as an adult. You see, we didn’t start off this rich, and my dream of becoming an astronaut or going to space camp was never realized. Now that I’m in a better position, I want to help a child like you go to space camp and live out the dream I never could,” Mr. Matthews smiled. “I’ve decided to send five students to space camp, one from each third grade class in Elwood City’s public schools. This morning, you’ll participate in some fun activities while we discuss which of you will be chosen for the camp. Miss Sweetwater, I believe you’re in charge of the fun events?”
“I am,” she nodded, standing up and speaking to the group without a microphone. They were about to do various space-related activities, and after being divided into five groups, the third graders of Lakewood Elementary began having fun. Miss Tingley took over the festivities while the teachers moved onto the stage and behind the curtain, where a table was waiting for them.
“Alright, we’ll begin with you, Nigel. Which of your students would benefit the most from space camp?” Principal Haney asked.
Miss Sweetwater objected, “Forgive me, but he already has the best candidate in the entire school. Alan Powers is intelligent, level-headed, and more than available for an opportunity like this. Why are we beginning with him?”
“Because I want him to pick someone else,” Principal Haney replied. “Brain is a very intelligent student, one who is more than capable of taking advantage of these opportunities on his own. I want him to pick someone else, and I wanted to begin with him in case that took a few minutes,” Principal Haney explained. Miss Sweetwater nodded, turning to Mr. Ratburn and waiting for him to speak.
“Well, in that case, I have a better candidate. Buster Baxter is a mediocre student. His mind is always on other things, making it difficult for him to learn sometimes. But what he thinks of is space, aliens, and things from other worlds. He would be perfect for this camp. As long as he’s interested in a subject, he excels, but because there’s only one select group of subjects that he’s interested in, he has merely average scores.”
“Well, I wasn’t looking for the best student, just the one who would benefit the most. Buster sounds like a perfect candidate, but there are two other classes. Miss Sweetwater, who do you have that would benefit the most from space camp?” Mr. Matthews asked.
“After hearing what Nigel said, I don’t think I have any. When I did my planets unit, quite a few children were entirely uninterested. I just don’t think I have anyone who cares about space the way Buster does,” she said.
Mr. Matthews and Principal Haney turned to the remaining teacher. Like Miss Sweetwater, none of her students seemed that interested in space. While they would enjoy space camp, it would simply become a childhood memory of the good times provided by elementary school. Buster would actually benefit from the trip, and they all decided unanimously that he should be the one to receive the trip.
With the decision made, they returned to the gym. Kids were running around wild while Miss Tingley stood in the center of the room, her hands rubbing her temples as she looked to the floor. Principal Haney quickly regained control, asking the children to sit where they were. This left them scattered throughout the room, but with the microphone’s help, they could all hear his announcement.
“We have come to a decision as to who will receive this lovely trip to space camp next month. The chosen student is,” Principal Haney said, pausing for a few moments for effect, “Buster Baxter.”
Mr. Ratburn’s class cheered for their classmate. Many of them expected Brain to be the one chosen because of how smart he is, and some wondered why Buster was even picked. Either way, the group was happy to see one of their own receiving such a gift. They congratulated him, and even after the assembly ended and they returned to class, the room was buzzing with excitement. Mr. Ratburn had trouble controlling them for the rest of the day, but he knew it was worth it. If anyone deserved to go to space camp, it was Buster.
Bitzi looked over the paperwork, a soft smile on her lips. Buster was staring a hole through her as she looked at the packet he’d been given at school. Inside was information on the camp, and as Bitzi flipped through the pages, she began to realize how large this opportunity was. Buster wouldn’t be going into space, but judging by the brochure, he’d be doing the same things real astronauts did before they went.
“So, Mom, can I go?” Buster asked. Bitzi laughed, “Oh, Buster, why wouldn’t I let you go? This is the opportunity of a lifetime. The way things are worded, mostly college students go to this camp. Sending you here is a miracle, something I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own. I mean, I know the Rec Center downtown has a space camp, but that’s for preschoolers compared to this.”
Buster was handed the packet, and his eyes quickly fell on the pricing chart. His mother was right about this camp being for college students. The first paragraph told the reader to ask their financial aid provider about getting help with payments, and when Buster saw the numbers, he saw why. He was going for one week, and though it was the shortest length of time, it still cost almost twenty-five thousand dollars.
“Mom, this is so much,” Buster gasped. “I mean, it’s just… I don’t know why Mr. Matthews is doing this. He said it was because he couldn’t go to space camp as a kid, but this is amazing! Look, there’s even a simulator for walking in outer space. This person says it was like being on another world. Oh! And the longest project sends you to a real space colony in the desert! Why is he doing this for a bunch of third graders?”
“Because he has the means to,” Bitzi said. “Mr. Matthews is a local legend for his money-making abilities. His family started with a handful of business endeavors, but it was Jeremy that set them up to be millionaires. He started out like you, just a boy with dreams, but he became a businessman instead. He probably wants to plant that seed now that could help you realize that dream of becoming an astronaut. Even if you decide to do something else one day, he knows a kid like you won’t forget this. You’ll probably find a career at this camp, and if you behave correctly and maintain connections, the people running the camp could help you get a job one day or go to a better college. This is the opportunity of a lifetime, and he’s doing this because it’s something he didn’t have.”
Buster was still stunned. He never thought he’d get an opportunity like this, not once in his entire life. Now a complete stranger was providing it to him, and he wanted to make him proud. Buster vowed to act his best at the camp and to learn as much as possible. He knew things might be over his head, but at least he was getting to go.
Buster stepped off the bus with a giddy smile on his face. His mother and all of his friends were there as he exited the bus, but it was Mr. Matthews that Buster locked eyes with. After the greetings were over, Mr. Matthews asked to take them all out for dinner so they could discuss the space camp.
For two weeks, Buster and the other Elwood City third graders lived like real astronauts-in-training. They went on flight simulations, they learned space math, and they even ate real space food. Though they weren’t at the desert base, they did live like they were on a real space colony. And while the other four candidates seemed tired, Buster was full of energy and eager to tell the group about every detail, and the adults were eager to hear what he had to say. The parents realized their kids had been given the opportunity of a lifetime the more Buster said, and Mr. Matthews knew from listening to him that he’d made the right choice.
After dinner, Mr. Matthews lingered at the restaurant with Bitzi and Buster. They took a seat together at a small table outside, and after Buster finished talking about how they looked at real moon rocks under a microscope, Mr. Matthews decided to ask Buster a very important question.
“So, when you get older, do you think this is something you’d be interested in pursuing for real?” he asked. Buster nodded intently. Why wouldn’t he want to become an astronaut? By the time he finished his training, they could be running missions to Mars. What kid wouldn’t want to be the first person to walk on Mars? Mr. Matthews smiled at his reasoning, “You have a good point about Mars, and…of all of the candidates I chose, you seem to be the one who really needed this camp. I just want to know something from you and your mother: Would you be interested in continuing this?”
“What do you mean?” Bitzi asked.
Mr. Matthews smiled, “Well, I did this to see what response I would get. Honestly, the other schools didn’t even want me there. Lakewood was the most welcoming, and you turned out to be the one candidate not exhausted by this whole thing. I see potential in you, Buster, and I’m willing to do something that some people might consider crazy. I want to pay for your education in a scientific field. Whether you choose to be an astronaut or a geologist or even a palaeontologist, I’m going to pay for it. And I’ll even make sure you learn from the best college, be it American or foreign. As long as you’re driven and maintain your grades from here and until you’re done, I’ll back you.”
Bitzi was stunned into speechlessness, and while Buster was equally shocked, he was still able to speak. He shook his head, “I don’t know if you should do that. I’m not that good of a student, and some of the math and stuff looked really hard. I don’t know if I can get good enough grades to be any kind of scientist.”
“I’ll pay for tutoring,” Mr. Matthews smiled. “Listen, Mr. Ratburn told us what you’re like as a student. You’re only driven when it’s about what you love, and in this case, it’s space. I want you to think of every subject as something that’s going to get you one step closer to your dream. Your English classes will help you learn to write scientific reports, for example, and your social students courses will help you see the impact people like you have on society. A tutor can help you along when you hit a rough patch, but I see great potential in you. I want you to do this, but if you think it’s too much-”
“I don’t, at least, not anymore,” Buster smiled. “Wow, I can’t believe this. I am really grateful, and I just want to say thank you.”
“No, Buster, thank you,” Mr. Matthews said, leaning forward. “When I was your age, I wanted nothing more in the world than to become a great astronaut and meet Buzz and Neil and walk on the moon. I have a different place in the world now, but you don’t. You can do anything you want, but I know you don’t have the means. Your parents try as hard as they can, but like you said, school work is difficult and what money you have couldn’t possibly do what I want to do for you. I believe in you, and I want the best for you. I ended up with the best for me after hard work, but now you can live out a dream for the both of us. And I’m going to be with you every step of the way,” he smiled.
Buster was stunned, but it was time for them to part ways. This wouldn’t be permanent. Jeremy continued to be a part of Buster’s life, following him as he went through the Elwood City school system. When he was done, Buster decided that he wanted to be an astronaut, so he journeyed across the country to be a part of the college running the space colony in the desert. Soon he lived there for months at a time just like a real astronaut, but he wanted more. He wanted the real thing.
Twenty years after their partnership began, Buster placed an important call to Jeremy Matthews. It was a video call, and when Jeremy saw where Buster was, he knew this entire process was worth it. Behind Buster, one of his fellow astronauts floated to his destination across the ship. Buster himself was floating and wearing an official NASA suit.
“Buster, you made it!” Mr. Matthews exclaimed. “So, what’s your mission?” he asked excitedly.
Buster grinned, “We’re going to be the first men and women to walk on Mars.”
The mission was long, but in the end, Buster and his team made it to Mars and back safely. He’d made history, and if it weren’t for Jeremy Matthews, he never would’ve made it to the initial space camp that set this all in motion. Without him, Buster wouldn’t have accomplished anything like this, and he was eternally grateful for everything. Every chance he could, he thanked his mentor, but he knew the greatest thanks of all was continuing his career and letting his passion for space take over his life.
Theme 162: Other World, Theme 167: Space Colony
Themes are from my Infinite Arthur Theme List. Let me know if you’re interested.