CHAPTER TWENTY SIX
My audience consisting of Kye – who has now almost completely recovered and doesn’t need any assistance to walk - Lia, Brian, Marcus, Deq and Rio applaud me as I finish my last rehearsal of the presentation. The big day is tomorrow and my nerves cannot be tamed right now. Kye says it’s good to be a little nervous and that when I start talking about the project my nerves will go away, which seems to be true since I’ve practiced. She knows what she’s talking about, she can handle the stage. She dressed me up in a smart skirt and blazer with my hair in a bun. This was a dress rehearsal.
“That was really good Jen. I’m not going to lie, I don’t understand some of the technical stuff you talk about but I’m sure they will,” Lia stands and stretches her legs.
“Yeah well, law’s terminology is quite different to astrophysics,” Deq comments prior to receiving a playful slap from Lia, “Ow!”
“Thanks guys. Goodnight,” I say as they begin to leave, arm in arm.
“I still cannot believe that you built that… with our help. Like, we made that! And it actually works! You’re good Jen. Good luck!” Marcus says waiting for the boys.
“It makes sense to me,” Rio buts in. “I actually think they’ll like the material change from your initial design.”
“Yeah, I hope so. Thanks for the idea, Rio.”
He has helped me a lot with the rebuild and gave me some great ideas along the way.
“No problem. I’ll be there watching you tomorrow. Break a leg… not like Kye though,” he chortles making us all laugh except Kye who’s nostrils widen at the remark.
“You’ll do great babe,” Brian says hugging me. “I’ll try and sneak in with Rio if I can. We’ll all try and sneak in. Be you. Be confident. I know you’ll put your heart into it. Do us proud.”
We kiss with our friends squirming in the background.
“Goodnight.” They all leave.
Jen and I stand looking at the project. I named it JK6. J for my name, K for my surname but more so for Kyara and six for the six of my cherished friends who helped me build this, but if anyone asks then six because it has six functions and coincidently it has six wheels.
Kye sits on the floor checking my essay one last time, while I change into my pajamas. I join her and just touch my project making sure it is perfect. I switch it off.
“Looks good,” Kye says, placing the booklet essay neatly on the MDF board the project sits on. “No matter what happens tomorrow, I’m proud of you. This is going to get you to your dreams no matter what.”
“Thanks Kye. Your motivational speeches got me here. I’m fulfilled. Even though I’m expelled already, I’m happy! I couldn’t have done this anywhere else. I guess I owe thanks to the university too.”
Kye admires the project, “I too feel accomplished looking at this. Look where we started, look what we’ve been through and look where life has brought us. I’m so glad you did this and listened to your heart. Life is too-”
“Short to not do what you want to,” I finish her sentence. “We should live it how we want and do the things we love because who knows when it’s time to go. And when it is, at least you’ll have lived your dream. I know,” I nod lost in my own thoughts. “You want to sing like Beyoncé and say ‘I was Here’, tell yourself like Imagine Dragons that ‘I’m on Top of the World’ and imagine ’How Far I’ll Go” like Moana.”
I smile gratefully and then begin to sing with my eyes closed. Tears fall from the corners of my closed lids and my passion glows from within me. I hear Kye joining in, crying, smiling and laughing, all the emotions together. I am ready. This is it.
* * *
I walk back and forth taking small steps as I nervously wait outside the Great Hall door. Kye peers through the window watching the rest of the project presentations. The guys and Lia made their way inside and now sit at the back of the lecture theatre, which is fully packed out! Dr. Hadfield sits with two more judges I suppose, at a long table right at the front. Alongside the NASA specialists are a few science and engineering lecturers and of course Dr. Kennedy, plus there are a few other lectures in the audience too. The contestants sit on the front row with their projects lined up along the side wall on trollies. My project also stands on a trolley, with my paper work neatly laid out, but it’s not in the room, no, it stands right next to me, outside the room. I hold a folder in my hand along with my USB stick for the presentation. I am extremely anxious. My hands and body are sweating, I can literally feel my shirt wet on my back. I washed my hair as well, I bet it’s already greasy from the sweat. Kye carefully looks around the corridors to ensure that no one comes along and questions us standing here. Apparently, she is waiting for the right moment. I am now feeling sick, I’ve been waiting for way too long just staring at my project, practicing my words and occasionally peeking through the window (but honestly that just makes me more nervous).
“Kye!” I whisper.
“Wait,” she concentrates looking through the window and holds her finger up.
“Kye, how long man? I want to get it over and done with!”
“Shhh!” she says trying to listen, “I think this is the last one.”
The last one! I begin to freak out. I have worked so hard on this project. It is my own creation. My heart and soul has gone into it, I just don’t want to be disappointed. I at least want to show it to the judges, otherwise everything will be a waste. I still don’t know how they’re going to react when I just barge in. What am I supposed to do after that? Should I start talking straight away? I don’t know what’s going to happen. God, help me!
“Are you ready Jen?” Kye looks widely through the window. “Alright, this is it. You have got this. God bless you! Ready?” she asks again.
I grip the handles of my trolley with my hands shaking slightly. I blow air out from my mouth to calm me. I look back at Kye and nod. She gives me a confidence enhancing look and then, at the right moment, she swings the doors open.
I push my trolley into the middle of the stage taking a quick, unsettling look around the hall. The chatter of the audience and applause for the judges and contestants comes to a stop and the judges who were packing up to leave and discuss projects, pause, and stare at me. At this moment, I am supposed to say something but my words don’t come out. Not after my eyes meet Dr. Kennedy’s, who pulls down his glasses, his forehead creases into a raging frown.
“Sorry Sirs, there’s just one more presentation,” Kye helps me out standing near the door.
I swallow. Dr. Kennedy turns his head to look at where the voice came from and isn’t surprised to see Kye. His face turns red and I can almost picture steam coming out from his ears and nose. He glares at my project with utter wrath. Now he knows exactly where that stolen material went. I look at Kye who tries to slyly tell me to speak through her facial expressions and her hand movements. I blink quickly and then take center stage.
“Good afternoon, I am Jennifer Kostigan. If I may, Sir?” I hold my USB stick up asking Dr. Hadfield if I can begin my presentation.
With all this anxiety I forget that I am standing in front of the Dr. Hadfield. This makes me more nervous, but it also reminds me how much I need to fight for this internship. It motivates me further. He is actually there in front of me. Come on Jen. You can do this. God, let’s do this!
Dr. Hadfield smiles at my project, “That looks very interesting.” I knew he was a nice person! He continues, “If it is okay with yourselves, Dr. Kennedy-”
“I do apologize Dr. Hadfield, however Miss Kostigan is not entitled to present any sort of project to our panel.” Dr. Kennedy rudely cuts him off.
My heart beat increases. I cannot let this go, “Sir, if I could just present my project-”
“Jennifer Kostigan, I’m afraid that you have forgotten…something.” He grits his teeth trying not to embarrass any of us, reminding me that I am expelled.
“Is there a problem, Dr. Kennedy?” Dr. Hadfield asks politely trying not to interfere too much with our discussion.
“No, no, not at all, it’s just that, Jennifer is not actually a science student, you see, so I think this would be a… waste of time,” he tries to put it politely in front of the guests.
“No! No it’s not a waste of time,” I stand my ground. “Sir, all I have ever wanted in my life is to become an astronaut. I have studied and worked hard. Please!”
“Dreams do not come true Miss Kostigan!” Dr. Kennedy raises his voice with anger but then realizes there are guests and an audience.
I panic! He won’t let me do it! I see Kye getting worried and the guys and Lia at the back of the hall waiting anxiously.
“My apologies Sir…” Kye takes center stage, “…But that, is a false statement. Dreams… are there for a reason… dreams give us a reason to live, they are what drive us to continue into our future.” She looks at me weirdly, trying to find convincing words.
I frown back at her, I have heard that before. I look up at Lia whose eyebrows are raised in surprise, she gently gestures with her hand at Kye to continue. Dr. Kennedy is about to say something but Kye overpowers him.
“We… we… we all have dreams, some seem bigger than others but for a person their dream is theirs and to them it’s a big deal. For some, it can be to get married, or to have children, or simply to wake up every morning in good health. For others, it’s a profession or an achievement like becoming a lawyer or going to university, winning a medal in the Olympics or even just taking part in the Olympics. They are our goals in life. We only have one life.” She talks with confidence, her speech is sharp and moving. I get lost in it once again and from what I can see, so is everyone else, the audience and the judges. I can imagine that motivational music for a second time.
“One life, to make our dreams come true. You know, it’s funny because whether you admit it or not, you all have a dream or have had a dream. Especially when you’re young and you really want something in life or you want your life to go a certain way, but then life itself gets in the way; our families, friends, relationships and money. And then we forget we even had dreams, trying to compete in the race of life. But who are we to get in the way of dreams? I ask you, think back to when you were young, what was your dream?” She pauses. “Has it come true?” Another Pause. “I didn’t think so. Why didn’t it come true?” Pause. “Because you didn’t have the guts to pursue it.” She points directly at Dr. Kennedy.
Strangely, he looks exposed and… wounded.
“How often do you meet a person who is living their dream? Anyone you ask will say, ‘I wanted to be this, but then I ended up doing this’. Why? Because they didn’t have the determination to pursue it or because their parents told them something else. Everybody has the right to live their dream. They give us freedom, they lead us on the right path. They give us an aspiration in life. Without dreams, we wouldn’t look forward to the future. And you know what’s crazy? Everybody has them; the rich, and the poor, the ill and the healthy. You know, some people say money makes the world go around, yeah maybe,” she laughs gently, again. “Most will say that love makes the world go around, also quite true. But I say hope makes the world go around because hope gives us faith in the world and with faith dreams come true. So who are you to get in the way of Jennifer’s dreams?” she now improvises. “Yes, she came here to study literature. And you know what, she did that, but she also studied astrophysics on her own accord. This girl has worked her ass off to produce something that is literally out of this world. She has gone and done that without any supervision of a teacher, without any help from the science department and all solely from her own research! That is not a waste of time! Don’t you think that at least you deserve a chance to see her project?” She finishes with a rhetorical questions in a soft yet powerful voice.
There’s silence in the room. It is as if everyone is holding their breaths waiting for an answer. Dr. Kennedy doesn’t speak, his eyes are low.
Dr. Hadfield clears his throat, “If you don’t mind Dr. Kennedy, we would like to hear Jennifer’s presentation.”
I feel a rush of adrenaline pump through my chest. A single clap is heard at the back of the room and then the whole audience is applauding. Dr. Hadfield smiles and gives me the go ahead to set up on the computer. I burst into an uncontainable smile and clap for Kye before she moves away. She looks relieved.
“Thank you for that,” Dr. Hadfield nods at Kye as she stands back against the wall acknowledging his appreciation.
The audience settle down, I load my presentation on the screen and hand out copies of my essay to the judges, then I take some deep breaths. Kye says take your time, I already know what to say, it’s my passion so it’s not about remembering, this is about telling. So I relax my mind. I take a moment. Then, I begin.
“Good Afternoon, I am Jennifer Kostigan, thank you for this opportunity. Let me introduce you to, JK6.”
I finish with an applause from the audience but most importantly a standing ovation from Dr. Hadfield and his coworkers. My emotions get the best of me and I let tears role down my face – I feel like I’ve won a TV talent show.
“That is originality,” Dr. Hadfield compliments my project. “Contestants, we shall meet back here in an hour for the results. Thank you everyone.”
I roll my trolley to the side where the rest of the projects are displayed. Dr. Kennedy has not said a word since Kye’s speech. The judges take all their notes and our essays and head into the room behind the Great Hall. A few people leave the hall, but most stay and find their contestant friends. I hug Kye and then we walk up the stairs to the rest of our gang. I get compliments along the way. Apparently my project is original and innovative. There are some aspects of my project that I know need expert work, but from a lot of the comments I’m hearing, mine is the simplest and most valuable. I was too nervous to hear or see anyone else’s so I don’t have a lot to compare it too, but the audience does.
“So proud of you Jen!” Brian embraces me.
They all compliment and comfort me.
“Nice speech Kye,” Lia winks at us.
“Man, I don’t even know what came over me, it just all poured out!” Kye says.
“Hey, you smashed it Jen, don’t worry about a thing,” Marcus hugs me.
I am a little quiet right now, but I think that’s more to do with me talking so much for the past twenty minutes.
“Thanks guys. Yes, I would love to be selected, that would literally be my dream come true, especially if I have the chance to go to space. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. I’d be fulfilled. But no matter what happens, I’m so glad that I finished that project and got the chance to present it today in front of NASA and Dr. Hadfield! All thanks to you guys. I’m happy. I truly am.”
An hour later, the audience is back and the judges are back in their seats with hidden expressions. Julie Kennedy is also in the room, she sits behind the judges with a laptop. I am suspicious but who cares, I’m expelled anyway. The contestants including me stand at the front, in a line. There’s twenty one of us all together. According to the gossip during the break, over one hundred students from our university applied for a supervisor but most of their project ideas were not realistic or already existed, so they were turned down. Dr. Kennedy stands up. He is still miserable from my entrance, I bet he hates me even more. Then again, he hated me so much anyway that I don’t think it matters. I’ve come to terms with that. What more can I lose.
He begins, “First and foremost I would like to take this opportunity to thank NASA for selecting our university to be part of this internship opportunity. We are truly grateful. I would like to personally thank Dr. Hadfield for coming in to tell us about this opportunity and for bringing a prestigious team with him today to judge the projects,” he applauds as does everyone else. “Furthermore, I would like to express thanks to all of our supervisors who have assisted our students in the design and build of these projects.” Another applause. “Thank you all,” he sits back down.
Dr. Hadfield takes over, “Yes, thank you all very much. Also thank you to the contestants for producing such innovative projects. This truly is proof that our future is bright and that the young people of today have the passion and the determination to advance our findings and technologies. No matter who we have selected for the internship, I believe that everyone we have seen today has the power to make our future a better place. So really well done to everyone. We will be keeping all your project files and your projects with us at NASA for possible future development, and of course if and when the time comes, you may be contacted. So don’t change your email addresses,” he jokes.
I giggle. There’s always hope.
“Right, let’s get to it.” Dr. Hadfield pauses as he catches my eyes, “Oh yes, and thanks to our dreams, for they do lead the way.” He looks down at his notes, “Jennifer Kostigan, we found your project innovative, original, useful and achievable. We love it. However, you study literature here, am I correct?”
“Sir, I am enrolled on the literature course and have completed it. However, I have also studied astrophysics for the past three years at this university. I have taken and passed all of the examinations so far. You can check this on my records. I have taken all the assessments. Hence, technically, I have also completed an astrophysics course. It is just that… my graduation is in the hands of the schools… for both subjects.” I stutter the last few words.
“What is your average grade in astrophysics?” Dr. Hadfield asks.
“Around eighty percent.”
“And in literature, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“Around seventy percent.”
Julie shows him something on the laptop.
“Ah, both quite high. I’m going to be quite frank Jennifer, you are our ideal intern. Your project is great, your essay is professional and your enthusiasm and determination is commendable!”
I’m the ideal intern! I get excited but I wait for the frank part to hit me.
Here is comes.
“… We need evidence or a witness in the form of a lecturer to prove that you have studied astrophysics, we require graduates and therefore you will ideally need to graduate in a few weeks’ time in astrophysics. More importantly, we need a reference for you and since you didn’t have a supervisor, we don’t have a reference.”
There’s silence. I don’t know what to say. I can’t argue against that.
“I will be the reference,” a voice enlightens the hall.
It’s Dr. Kennedy’s. Kyle Kennedy. Science Kennedy.
“I can guarantee that Jennifer Kostigan has studied astrophysics and… and she will graduate in both subjects in a few weeks’ time, of course on the condition that she passes the current examination season.” Dr. Kennedy now slowly looks up. His voice is empathetic and his anger has turned into sorrow.
“Very well, then I am happy to announce that the first intern position goes to… Jennifer Kostigan!” Dr. Hadfield declares.
Applause fills the Great Hall and I hear cheering at the back. I stand in surprise. The happiness of me getting selected has been whitewashed by the utter shock that Dr. Kennedy is willing to be my reference! He is letting me graduate in both subjects! What the heck is going on! Oh God, is this real? People either side of me nudge and congratulate me prodding me into reality.
“You know, I once dreamed of becoming an astronaut. If only I had the courage to pursue it.” Dr. Kennedy stands up to shake my hand. He actually smiles. It’s as if something from his past has finally been forgiven. I walk forward and shake his hand. “Well done Jennifer, for proving me wrong,” he smiles and nods his head genuinely.
“Thank you Sir,” I humbly say, getting emotional, now the happiness of getting through is coming back. “Thank you so much!”
I got it! I fricking got the internship! Thank you God! Thank you! I move on to shake Dr. Hadfield’s hand.
“You’ve seriously got some bravery to study two subjects, Jennifer. Your project will make history and so will your determination of fulfilling your dream. Congratulations. We look forward to working with you at NASA.”
I squeal with excitement and happy tears, “Thank you Sir!”
I move along the panel receiving congrats and shaking hands and then as I move to the side I catch Julie Kennedy’s eyes, which glitter with pride and joy. She raises her thumbs at me and I express my gratitude back. They reveal the second intern, who jumps with delight. His project looks fascinating and he himself seems like a hard worker. With all the joy in the air, I take everything in, in slow motion. The cheers, the applause, the smiles on my friends’ faces. It’s beautiful. I feel accomplished. All the happiness has been handed to me all at once. I couldn’t have asked for more. The graduations for both subjects, the completion of my education, the success of my project achieving this internship and the belief that my dream has come true. The feeling is indescribable. Out of this world. Magical. Dreamy. But it’s real. Thank you God. I am grateful for the years you have given me, I am grateful for believing and I am grateful for the friends you have made me meet. I am grateful for Kye, because if it wasn’t for her, none of this would ever have happened and my dream would have stayed a dream. It is surreal.
Yeah, I made it.