The Lists

September’s Sparklers: Those Who Choose to Shine

Here at Dandelion Chandelier we like to celebrate the people, groups and institutions who have spread light in the world, even in the midst of great darkness. Every day around the world, people choose to shine in ways large and small. These moments of grace and generosity don’t always get reported on, and unfortunately they can be quickly forgotten. We need to hear and repeat these stories: sometimes good news and kindness is the sweetest luxury of all.

To inspire us all to keep reaching out, here are some Sparklers that caught our attention in recent weeks:

With rookie slugger Aaron Judge drawing huge fan attention and adoration this summer, the New York Yankees set up a special section in right field at Yankee Stadium called “The Judge’s Chambers.” It’s complete with dark robes and foam gavels for fans, plus faux wood paneling. During the first week of September, one of those seats was graced by an actual Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor. A native of the Bronx and a longtime Yankees fan, Sotomayor rooted for her hometown team during a 6-2 home win over the Red Sox. She was wearing a Yankees robe and from all appearances, had a supremely good time and gave the fans a lot to celebrate.

Other sparklers also spread light at Major League Baseball games in recent weeks. Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto gave 6-year-old Walter Herbert the bat from a 7th-inning home run he hit. He also went into the dugout and returned to give the little boy his game-worn jersey. The youngster is suffering from Stage 4 neuroblastoma, one of the most common types of pediatric cancer. “These are the days you remember when you have the bad days,” his father Wally Herbert said. Emily Herbert, Walter’s mother, added: “Joey Votto has a huge heart.”

Simone Askew is making history as the first black woman to lead the Long Grey Line at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. A few weeks ago, she joined a long line of cadets ending basic training with a traditional 12-mile (19-kilometer) march. The 20-year-old international history major from Fairfax, Virginia has since assumed her duties as first captain of the 4,400-member Corps of Cadets. That’s the highest position in the cadet chain of command at West Point. Pat Locke, one of two black women in the first class of women to graduate from West Point in 1980, has served as a mentor for Askew for years, and sings her praises. Brigadier General Steve Gilland says Askew exemplifies the academy’s values of duty, honor and country. We say hurray for everyone involved in this historic achievement.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson touched down in Kazakhstan alongside a fellow American and a Russian in their Soyuz capsule, wrapping up a record-breaking mission. Whitson spent 288 days — more than nine months — on this latest mission aboard the International Space Station. But over the course of her career, she has been away from earth for three long-duration missions, an accumulation of 665 days — longer than any American ever and more time than any woman worldwide. Whitson, who is also a biochemist, broke the record for an American astronaut’s time in space in April on her 534th day in orbit. Whitson has smashed other records as well: she is the world’s oldest female astronaut (57 years old), the most experienced female spacewalker (10 space walks) and she is the first woman to have commanded the space station twice. The space station’s new commander Randy Bresnik praised the astronauts’ work, calling Whitson an “American space ninja.”

In other NASA news, 12 new hopefuls — five women and seven men — were selected from more than 18,300 applicants to create NASA’s 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. It’s the first class of astronaut candidates since 2013. One of the twelve is Jessica Watkins, a post-doctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology who is proud to represent Black women in a field dominated by men. She shared her excitement about “the idea of being able to be a face to others who may not see people who look like them in STEM fields in general, and doing cool things like going to space.” The new class began their two-year training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston last month. In training, the candidates will learn a range of lessons, including on the International Space Station systems, robotics training, space walks, the Russian language and flight training.

Finally, we want to pay special tribute to every person – first responders, military service members, local and Federal law enforcement, friends, family members, neighbors, Good Samaritans, religious and community leaders, political and business leaders and citizens around the world – to everyone who has reached out a hand to help those in need in the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria and the recent earthquakes in Mexico. This month has been a time of tragedy for many. Those who risk their lives – who reach out a hand, make a contribution, organize relief efforts, and speak for those unable to speak for themselves – are shining a light in the deepest darkness, and inspiring all of us to do the same.

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