Meeting Miss America

Commander Oscar with a suit

Today was Oscar’s second visit to Let’s Read! Let’s Move! at the U.S. Department of Education. This is a special series held at the dept to encourage reading and healthy habits during the summer. I volunteer to assist with filming and photographing this event. Each week, a handful of celebrities join Secretary Arne Duncan and read stories to groups of local kids and then lead them on special active games.

When we heard that there would be an astronaut at today’s event, Oscar and I talked about wearing his astronaut suit to the event as well. We had already planned on him wearing his suit to visit the Air & Space Museum after the event, but we got especially excited about the prospect of meeting a real live astronaut. When we got to the auditorium a little bit early, we found this space suit sitting on the stage so Oscar went up to get his picture with it. Once he did that, several NASA and Air & Space employees came over and asked if they could take photos as well. Then right before the event was to begin, we were told we could sneak back and see if Miss America was ready in the green room.

Oscar meeting Miss America Mallory Hagan

2013 Miss America Mallory Hagan was getting ready to take the “stage” and lead the kids in an exercise routine, but she had a few minutes to meet with me and Oscar. I introduced myself and told her that I was also a freelance photographer and I covered the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas back in January, and I would be thrilled if she could sign this photo from the moment of her being announced Miss America. She looked a little visibly shocked and said “What a flattering expression I’m making.” I explained she could sign the more traditional photo I also had of the press conference, but she did it anyway. This is now my most prized possession, ever.

Miss America Mallory Hagan Signed pics

It reads Andy, SUCH a pleasure meeting you ♥ Mallory Hagan.

Then she graciously offered to sign my back-up photo. I asked if she wouldn’t mind signing it for Oscar, so she crouched down to his level and signed this one, which will be framed and on his wall in the immediate future. This is the type of thing I see him taking to college with him.

Miss America Mallory Hagan Signed pics

Oscar, Looking forward to seeing you in a real space suit one day! ♥ Mallory Hagan.

That’s sweet. He doesn’t appreciate it now, but I figure in less than ten years he will.

I posted a thank you on the official Miss America Facebook wall and got this. Score!


So then we joined the other children in the main room and got started with the program. NASA’s own Shelley Canright was to lead the children in some astronaut themed exercises and wanted to introduce Oscar to the crowd before the Commander Crunches because his suit said “Commander” on it. After several exercises, Miss America walked around and greeted each of the eight planet groups, asking who they were and for their “chant.” Then this happened.

You can see Oscar in the lower right side returning her hands-on-hips salute and beaming with joy at being called out in front of everyone. I was too.

Arne Duncan, Sec. of Commerce Penny Pritzker, and Miss America Mallory Hagan

In the reading portion, the children sat silently as Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Miss America, Astronaut George Zamka, and Senators Johnny Isakson (Ga.), and Michael Bennet (Colo.) read the book Pluto’s Secret. This book is all about Pluto, and why it is no longer a planet. That’s important. The tale is a personification of the planets, and explains how the planets were each discovered, and concludes with it’s re-classification as a planetoid. Then, as per tradition, they take questions from the audience for about ten minutes. The audience consisting of K-3rd graders. Basically its the same question, over and over. To be fair, these kids saw everyone else raising their hand and really just wanted the microphone. You get a few gems here and there, but mostly its the same (or slight variation of the) question the first kid asked. So seven or eight times the panel was asked “Why is Pluto no longer a planet?” And then Oscar got the mic. Arne spotted his astronaut suit and asked him to stand up. Once he had the mic he asked Astronaut George Zamka, What does it feel like to float in space?” HOLY CRAP a real question. You could see the excitement flicker in the astronaut’s eyes. This man has seen our glorious blue planet from orbit. He has stared into the dark abyss of infinite space and witnessed the origins of his existence stare back. And yet after being asked the same inane question over and over, he was visibly excited to answer a relevant question about his experiences. And his answer is slightly horrifying. Floating in space feels like you’re falling, like on a rollercoaster, all the time. A constant state of free-fall, but you get used to it. Yikes! Oscar was thrilled to have his question answered from someone with direct experience.

Afterwards several people had asked me if I had coached him like a Toddlers & Tiaras child. However the truth is, the night before, I told him there would be an astronaut and he’d be able to ask him a question, so we thought about a lot of questions he could ask him. One of the ones Oscar decided against was “Could you visit the sun if you had a really big water bottle?!” but Oscar knew that was pretty silly to begin with, and he came up with this all on his own.

Miss America, the folks from NASA and Arne Duncan with Oscar

Another tradition is Arne posing with his VIP guests before they all took off. We briskly walked up and hung off to the side so I could try and grab a picture of Oscar and the Astronaut as soon as they were done with their photo op. However, they spied Oscar and asked him to come join them! So now Oscar’s in the official Arne picture. (The above photo was the one I took right after the official one was snapped, if I get a copy of that one, I’ll replace that here)

Me, Oscar and Astronaut George Zamka

During the games portion outside, George was walking around, and he was genuinely happy to give Oscar a high-five up close, and pose for a quick picture. The man was a real class act, and Oscar was equally thrilled to meet him. We walked around a bit more, Oscar got Frog & Toad Are Friends, and then we went across the street to the Air & Space museum. He’s been there once before in his space suit (many, many times incognito) and he was relishing in the stares and high-fives he got, but then something strange happened. There was a whole gaggle of Japanese school girls, and they took turns asking me if they could get a picture with my son. Then they would go stand next to him, throw up the peace sign, get the pic and then switch off. Here is one of them, and the next one in line is the one in red.

Japanese school girls lined up to get pics with Oscar

Oscar was a very good sport, but was getting a bit worn out and wanted some ice cream, so we checked out the rest of the Lunar exhibit and made a beeline for Ben & Jerry’s. One last stop at the Mercury capsule first.

With one of the Mercury capsules

Oscar had an amazing time, meeting some famous people, being the star of the show, and getting free stuff. In addition to the free children’s book, he got a NASA themed activity pad full of mazes and puzzles, and a cool NASA logo bag he can take to camp. He didn’t quite fall asleep on the MARC train ride home, but we were both pretty beat by 3:00.

On top of all that amazingness, there is also word that footage from this event will appear on 20/20 tomorrow night on ABC. Set your DVR for Friday at 10pm. I don’t know if it’ll be bumped by Royal Baby Coverage, or if this was a slow-news week filler for in the future, but we believe this will be on tomorrow night.

And for the curious, here’s my video of my trip to Miss America in January. The one I posted on Miss America’s wall. The one that Miss America Liked.

About Andy

I am the poppa of Oscar Jones
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