Cheney High students remember fallen alum

Posted: Wednesday, February 05, 2003

CHENEY, Wash. -- The students entering Cheney High School Monday had not been born when Michael Anderson roamed these same halls -- a young man on a mission.

But astronaut Anderson is hard to forget. In the main foyer of the school, pictures depicting the space shuttle program -- along with photographs of Anderson talking to students -- are on permanent display.

On Monday -- the first day back to school after the shuttle Columbia disintegrated in the sky, killing Lt. Col. Anderson and six other astronauts -- there were more sober reminders of the school's most famous graduate.

Beneath a flag flying at half staff, someone had placed three bouquets of flowers and tied a balloon in the shape of a dove to a chain link fence.

Nearby, a custodian affixed ''Godspeed Columbia'' to the school's reader board.

''We had a Martin Luther King Day assembly and the speaker said Anderson had gone here,'' junior Andrew DeCesare said. ''He told us, 'Anyone can do anything if they put their minds to it.' He said, 'He came from here. He's in space now.'''


Douglass School fourth-graders Beth Mahaffey, left, and Cheyenne Meyer react as they watch the memorial for the seven space shuttle Columbia astronauts Tuesday in Douglass, Texas. The school has been the center of attention following the disaster because of the scattered shuttle debris that shut down their school Monday. Classes resumed Tuesday with the students witnessing another part of the ongoing story.

AP Photo/Dallas Morning News, Tom Fox

Anderson was a member of the Cheney High Class of 1977, as far removed from the students of 2003 as World War II is to their baby boomer parents. In his high school yearbook photo, Anderson sports a healthy Afro, a symbol of a time before MTV, before the Internet, four years before the first space shuttle mission.

Students stood in small groups in the school's lobby before classes began Monday, talking about ''that astronaut'' pictured in the display case that commemorates his 1998 visit to Cheney, a farming and university town about 15 miles southwest of Spokane.

The display case features the Cheney Black Hawks banner Anderson presented during that visit. He had carried it aboard the shuttle Endeavor in its linkup with the Mir space station.

Students observed a moment of silence Monday in memory of Anderson. Cheney Schools Super-intendent Phil Snowdon said student leaders would decide later on a possible long-term memorial.

Administrators left it to individual teachers to decide how to discuss Anderson's death, Snowdon said.

''It's certainly not business as usual. We don't want to push it aside,'' Snowdon said. ''We will pay some attention to it, but we have to get back to the business of education.''

First-period teachers were asked to read a statement prepared by Snowdon.

''As we are painfully aware, Michael Anderson died Saturday in the Columbia space shuttle accident in the skies over Texas. Our thoughts and prayers are with Michael's family and friends throughout the world,'' Snowdon wrote. ''Most of us look up and see the sky. Michael Anderson looked up and saw our future.''

Anderson, 43, a career Air Force officer, was an infrequent visitor here but often visited his parents, who still live in Spokane.

''It is probably one of my fondest memories,'' Snowdon said of Anderson's 1998 visit. ''He was very small physically, but he had a huge heart.''

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