The Right Stuff at R-MA

By Grace Alexander '14

The Common Reader, sponsored by the Byzantium chapter of the National English Honor Society and English Chairman Mr. Robert Davies, has been a tradition at Randolph-Macon Academy for the past seven years. Each summer students have the option to read a designated Common Reader selection. Our books have dealt with issues from cell cloning, to the impact of technology, to space.

The Common Reader this past summer, The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, is an engaging story about the journeys of the first men into space during the Cold War. It details their lives as fighter pilots and so vividly describes the main characters’ thoughts that it allows the reader to understand how fighter pilots feel. The fighter pilots want to have “the right stuff,” which is a combination of dedication, confidence, and superiority. It is the ability to get out of a life-or-death situation with confidence and ease. With the Cold War came the space race, and the United States created NASA with the goal of putting men in space to compete with the Russians. Seven fighter pilots, after many rigorous tests, were chosen to be the first astronauts in the program. 

These young men became America’s heroes. They are likened to the single-combat warriors of past times, competing against the Russians and risking their lives for their country. Alan Shepard became the first man in space, followed shortly by John Glenn. John Glenn made many Americans, from the policemen of New York City to the U.S President’s father, cry because they were so overcome with pride and emotion. Americans were proud of their country and the people who risked their lives to advance the nation into space. Eventually, other astronauts become part of the program, but they never were the heroes to the degree the first seven were.

The top summer reading students, the students who read The Right Stuff, and the faculty who enjoyed the book met Monday, October 28th in the R-MA President’s Dining Hall to discuss the book. General Forsyth and Colonel Sadler attended and discussed their experience as pilots in the U.S. Air Force. They talked about what this intangible “right stuff” means to them. General Forsyth said, “ Having the right stuff is about having the dedication and going into those stressful situations, not taking the path of least resistance.” He went on to say, “It’s not just for fighter pilots.” Colonel Sadler shared his experiences as a command pilot in various aircraft, including the F-16, which he flew during Operation Desert Storm. The students thank all faculty who participated in the valuable discussion and General Forsyth and Colonel Sadler for their inspirational words which helped make the book “come alive.”