Purdue Memorializes Astronaut Alum Neil Armstrong


Monday saw a windy late-summer evening on Purdue University’s campus as a crowd gathered to honor the legacy of Neil Armstrong. We all know him as the man who flew to the moon and back, but the students of Purdue University know a humble man.

The memorial service was bookended by musical selections from the Purdue All-American Marching Band and Purdue’s Glee Club. This music teacher and aficionado can only imagine that Armstrong had Purdue’s fight song lingering in his head as he took that “one giant leap for mankind” so many years ago. The Glee Club performed a resounding rendition of “Lost in the Stars” in front of the statue of Neil Armstrong (photo at right). It was as if the astronaut himself was there singing with the men of Purdue, as his image was seen from behind.
Astronaut Greg Harbaugh brought laughter to a somber crowd by mentioning a prayer that Armstrong would always share with other astronauts, “God help you if you screw up!” Not to be outdone by Purdue’s rival, Indiana University, Stuart Shippee, a member of the Air Force ROTC, brought on a cheer by mentioning that his favorite Armstrong quote to be shouted at IU vs. Purdue football games was “We’ve got a moon rock!” But what was mentioned time and time again was how this was a man of great humility. I learned from students that Neil would always come back to Purdue’s campus to sit and chat with students; he did not come back to be in the limelight, conduct interviews with the media, or even attend the unveiling of his own larger-than-life statue.
The memorial service for Neil Armstrong was entirely driven by the Purdue student body. Joe Rust, student body president, served as master of ceremonies for the memorial service. “Neil was a man of humility,” Rust says, “and he achieved something great but always gave credit to others.” That was the life of Armstrong, a man who did not seek fame for shooting to the moon but rather doled out kudos to everyone else, to all of mankind. He inspired students through his legacies as a Boilermaker, an astronaut, and a humanitarian who loved a good Purdue football game. Today’s celebrated public figures—indeed, all of us—could learn from this out-of-sight example of living humbly, even in our greatest moments.
>> MORE: See another Purdue alumnus’s take on the Aug. 27 memorial service for Neil Armstrong on campus.
Photos by Jacob Wolverton