Amazing Grace: FSU celebrates Grace Corrigan’s legacy

Ashley Wall / THE GATEPOST

Last fall, Framingham State lost an important member of our community. Grace Corrigan, mother of astronaut Christa McAuliffe, and author of the book, “A Journal for Christa,” died on Nov. 8 at the age of 94.  

Scott Greenberg, associate vice president for academic affairs and the dean of continuing education at FSU, said, “Sometimes in life, you meet someone and know immediately you’re going to like that person. In fact, all you have to do is look at the person and your spirits are suddenly lifted. 

“Grace Corrigan was such a person for me, and I’m sure that was true for the thousands of others who met her. Grace exuded warmth, kindness, tolerance, gentleness, and compassion,” he said.

Many people who spoke at the remembrance said that most individuals who knew Corrigan thought of her as a role model to many in the FSU community – A gracious and caring human being who always spoke from her heart and emphasized the importance of following your dreams. 

FSU held a memorial service in her honor on Jan. 28, the 33rd anniversary of the Challenger explosion. Members of the FSU community, Alumni, and others who knew Corrigan gathered in the Ecumenical Center to discuss her life and legacy.

After the Challenger accident and the death of her daughter, Corrigan dedicated her time to continuing Christa’s educational mission – providing new programs and STEM opportunities for students and teachers alike. Corrigan emphasized the importance of education and teaching excellence at FSU by developing a vision for the Christa Mcauliffe Center. 

Her vision was to be able to reach out to teachers by giving them a place to share ideas and experiences with their other colleagues, said Mary Liscombe, FSU alumna and member of the class of 1970, and Corrigan’s friend.

Liscombe added, “Christa McAuliffe stepped on the Space Shuttle Challenger with the intention of teaching people around the entire globe lessons from space. Grace wanted to continue that legacy. … It was her vision. It was her dream. And I am so grateful for people who are carrying it on today.” 

President F. Javier Cevallos said even through tragedy, “something really positive has come out” of the experience, adding FSU has created a stronger aim toward education with the development of the McAuliffe center, and even the world is now moving forward with technology and with explorations in space, like the Mars Missions. 

 Irene Porro, director of the McAuliffe Center at FSU, said she thinks the work and legacies of both Corrigan and McAuliffe have “focused our efforts.” 

By establishing the McAuliffe Center as a reference point for STEM learning opportunities, students now have a centralized way of obtaining internships, engaging in STEM educational programs, and utilizing facilities such as the FSU high-definition digital planetarium, a versatile exhibit of space, and a Challenger Learning Center, said Porro.

Lance Bush, CEO of the Challenger Center, wrote in a statement read at the memorial, “Ms. Corrigan was instrumental in the creation of the Challenger Learning Center. Now, 33 years after the accident, more than five million students have had the opportunity to experience the Challenger Learning Center. This accomplishment is not only a fitting tribute to the legacy of Christa, the crew, but also to the efforts of Grace and other family members.”  

Dan Barstow, education manager for the International Space Station and former president of the Challenger Center national office, discussed how now the space station has thousands of students participating and launching their own experiments because of Grace, who “lifted” the mission “further to continue its journey.” 

Barstow said, “Grace is such an important part of the arc of history. … There’s a moment in this kind of tragedy where you can say, ‘I can’t bear to be public any more with this. Let’s have a beautiful monument.’ … But they chose a different path – to carry on that legacy by continuing its flight, creating the Challenger program that reaches hundreds of thousands a year, and in fact has been part of the historic transition of our engagement in education and space.”  

Liscombe, who, growing up, only wanted to inspire children by becoming a teacher, never really expected she would work at the McAuliffe Center or have a classmate who was a member of the Challenger crew.  

“I never really thought I would get to do the things that I did, and a lot of this is because of Grace and the families of the Challenger group … They had a vision to continue to inspire children and I am blessed to be a part of that vision,” she said.  

Corrigan would often stop by the McAuliffe Center, attending programs, educating children, and giving advice to teachers. 

Lisa Bristol, Corrigan’s daughter and Christa’s sister, said, “When my sister passed, one of the first places we came was up to Framingham State, and Framingham State became my mom’s second home. It was very important to her to carry that torch for Christa. And she did. She did it well. She did it fabulously.” 

Liscombe said, “To see Grace with children was really where you saw Grace at her best. … Grace always knew what was in their hearts.”

While the children asked questions about how Corrigan felt and how she got through the devastating loss of her child, Liscombe said Corrigan would always respond in the same way.  

“She would say, ‘Do you know why Christa went on the Challenger?’ … ‘She did it for you. She was a teacher and she wanted you to know that the only way that you can move forward in life was to sometimes take a risk,’” Liscombe said. “She always had that way about her. She would leave those children with so much hope for the things that they could possibly do in their lives.” 

Greenberg said he would often see Corrigan at the annual awards ceremony the McAuliffe center held to honor Christa McAuliffe scholars. He recalled the highlights of those nights were when students read aloud their essays about teachers who had influenced them. “Grace would talk to them and encourage them to continue working hard and to reach their dreams,” he said. 

She “was an extraordinary woman, who ultimately turned a personal and national tragedy into a remarkable quest that transformed the lives of so many people. There is no doubt that Grace’s legacy in accomplishing Christa’s mission resulted in so many young people going into careers in science and teaching,” Greenberg added.

Bristol said her mother taught Christa that she could do whatever she put her mind to. “I think that truly is the message to pass on to everyone is that you can do and be whatever you want to be. Do it with your whole heart. Do it with love, and kindness, and integrity.  

“I would say you might want to think that my mother was following Christa, but I want to tell you that Christa followed my mother,” she said. After Christa was selected as teacher in space, she sent Corrigan a card. The card had a mountain and on top of the mountain, a woman held a flag while another woman stood below the mountain. “It said, ‘Behind every strong woman is another woman.’ And that kind of says it all.”   

Bristol thanked the Framingham State community and everyone who carried on Christa’s and Corrigan’s mission. She gave a special thanks to Framingham State archivist Colleen Previtt, who manages the Christa McAuliffe collection Corrigan donated to the Whittemore Library in 2002. “Colleen was like a ‘saving grace.’ … knowing that [Grace] could bring it up here and that it would be safe, utilized, and protected, and cared for – that lifted a huge burden off of my family,” she said. 

Bruce Mattson, assistant director of the Christa McAuliffe Center, closed out the service with a musical interlude of “Amazing Grace.”

Greenberg said, “Christa’s famous words in the Dwight Hall Auditorium are ‘I touch the future. I teach.’ That certainly applies to Grace Corrigan. She touched the future for all of us.” 

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