Astronaut urges young girls to reach for the stars

June 12, 2012 - 4:37am

It’s a day Emily Nelson will never forget.

The Hammond Bay Elementary school French immersion student met her heroine, Canadian astronaut Julie Payette in Nanaimo recently.

“She was really nice and friendly,” said Emily.

Emily, her mom Jodi and sister Alex waited outside the Port Theatre in Nanaimo on Monday, June 4 after they heard Payette was coming to town to receive an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Technology at Vancouver Island University’s spring convocation.

Emily brought along a large poster she made as a grade four class project highlighting Payette’s accomplishments and adventures in space.

“The timing of Ms. Payette coming to Nanaimo to receive the VIU award was unbelievable,” said Dave Nelson, Emily’s dad. “Emily did the class project on Canadian astronaut Julie Payette over a month ago. She never dreamed they would meet.”

A family friend read in the newspaper that Payette was coming to Nanaimo to receive the VIU award. Emily’s dad emailed John Phipps, a Field Experience Coordinator in VIU’s Faculty of Education, to see if his daughter could meet Payette.

“I told the girls and their mom to wait outside the theatre but couldn’t promise anything,” said Phipps.

When Payette arrived at the Port Theatre for the ceremony, Phipps asked if she would like to make the day of two little girls.

Payette willingly ducked outside to meet her fans, reviewed Emily’s poster, talked to the girls and their mom, gave them badges from Nassau and signed pictures.

“My girls are ecstatic,” said Dave Nelson. “They were so happy to meet her and have the chance to talk with her. I think they are star-struck.”

“In French, she (Payette) asked me my name and how old I was, and then asked if she could see my poster,” said Emily. “She said thank you for waiting so long to see her, and to work really hard in school, and that we should do whatever we want in life but to do it well.

“She was happy to see my poster in French, signed our pictures and wrote ‘Dare to Dream’ on my picture and ‘Be all you can be’ on my sister’s picture.”

Asked why she chose Payette for her class project on Canadian explorers Emily said, “because she is French and Canadian, and a girl, and because she got to go into space, and she’s still alive.”

After Payette received the Honorary Doctorate Award at VIU’s convocation ceremony, she gave a passionate and inspiring speech to more than 300 graduates and their family members. A replay of the speech can be viewed at

Originally from St. Hubert, Quebec, Payette fulfilled her lifelong dream with two Space Shuttle missions in 1999 and 2009 and contributed to the Canadian Space Agency in a variety of other ways. She is the second Canadian woman to have flown in space.

In 1992, she was chosen by the Canadian Space Agency as one of four new astronauts from a selection of 5,330 candidates.

[Hear Julie Payette's speech at VIU's spring convocation]()

[Read more about Payette’s achievements]()

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