One of only 12 men to walk on the moon regaled more than 500 people at The Runnels High School graduation ceremonies Thursday night with humorous stories about his time as an astronaut and lessons learned from a life spanning more than eight decades.
Former astronaut Alan Bean spent about half of his nearly 30-minute speech talking face-to-face to the 62 graduates seated on stage, delivering an encouraging message that they alone would determine how their lives would be spent.
He told them the only way to be special is to do something special.
“My life didn’t accidentally occur and there’s no reason for your life to accidentally occur,” Bean told the graduates.
L.K. Runnels, headmaster and founder of the private school on South Harrell’s Ferry Road, introduced Bean with a Cliffs Notes version of Bean’s life.
Highlights included Bean’s graduation from the University of Texas at Austin in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering, his three years as a Navy test pilot before becoming an astronaut and his resignation from NASA in 1981 to become a full-time painter.
“It’s not very often you get a chance to introduce and welcome a legend, and we get that chance tonight,” Runnels said to a rousing ovation for Bean.
Bean, who was wearing a light blue jacket with NASA patches and his gold Navy wings, said he became a Navy test pilot because all the astronauts were Navy aviators in those days.
He said he took aeronautical engineering in college because he thought it would help him become a better pilot, despite people telling him those classes would be too difficult.
“No one knows, no one knows, how great you can be,” Bean said. “Accomplishing impossible dreams, it’s not easy. It’s hard, but you’ve got to be willing to persist and try again.”
Bean was a backup astronaut for the Gemini X and Apollo IX missions before his first trek into space as the pilot for the Apollo XII mission in 1969, followed by the Skylab II mission in 1973, according to NASA’s website.
During his time as a test pilot and in NASA, he took night and weekend art classes to hone his skills and feed his passion for painting.
On a giant projector screen behind the graduates and school faculty seated on stage, Bean displayed a slide show of his artwork. Most were third-person viewpoints of his time on the moon, along with a few paintings where he took more artistic license.
One painting shows Bean and fellow moon-walker Capt. Pete Conrad throwing a football on the moon. Bean said that didn’t happen, but he wished he had done it.
They would play that footage at every Super Bowl forever, he joked.
A true story, though, involved hethy path and dreams to our heart.”, Conrad and an arrowhead the two talked about bringing to the moon to leave impression that there was or had once been life on the moon.
They would have placed the arrowhead on the ground and briefly panned over it with the camera that fed back to mission control in hopes someone would see the arrowhead.
That plan was scrapped.
“Sometimes, when you’re that age, you get bad ideas,” he said, chuckling.
He said he left NASA because he had seen things most people could only dream about and he wanted to convey what he saw and experienced to other generations.
Bean said if he were to give his younger self or the students any advice, it would be to be as special as he could be to his parents and siblings every day and that the end of the voyage depends on how hard a person is willing to work.
“Let me leave you with three wishes for your voyage — wind at our sails, light to