Tribal Member Dazzles DC Audience of 2,000 as Keynote Speaker
BY FRANK ZUFALL
Sawyer County Record Staff Reporter
Used with permission by the Sawyer County Record
“She knocked it out of the park,” said Susan Nelson, president of the National Space Club.
Nelson, the organizer of the 65th annual Robert H. Goddard Memorial Dinner held March 18 at the Washington, D.C. Hilton and hosted by the National Space Club and Foundation, was referring to Parker Arntsen-Beaudin’s keynote speech given before 2,000 dignitaries.
Arntsen-Beaudin is a senior at Northern Waters Environmental School (NWES) in Hayward and a science major at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College (LCOOC).
She applied for and received a $10,000 scholarship from the foundation and, from among five scholarship winners, was chosen to give the keynote address, one of the highlights of the evening.
To lend some perspective to this accomplishment, such notables as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and national NBC reporters have given the keynote speech in the past.
The 17-year-old student from northern Wisconsin had big shoes to fill and huge expectations from people who work at NASA, the military, in the aerospace industry and some of America’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning.
After Arntsen-Beaudin’s speech, Nelson said, at 11:30 p.m. two heavily decorated audience members in formal military dress stopped her to say they were moved by speech.
“They thought she was raw but compelling,” she said. “It was just inspiring to hear her, and you know it will be exciting to see what her future brings.”
More than a week later, Nelson said she is still hearing from audience members about how they were moved by the speech.
“We are talking about high-ranking people in the aerospace and defense industry” who have responded, she said. Nelson added that Arntsen-Beaudin not only moved the audience with her words but also with her demeanor, that of someone who was vulnerable but also strong.
“They appreciated that she was young and impressionable, but they also thought she delivered solidly and strongly,” she said. “She didn’t even really look at her speech. She just went through it, and as you can imagine being on the board, we knew her speech and had gone through it with her, and she nailed it. Her anecdotes were very touching, talking about her teachers that inspired her in elementary and high school.”
Brittany Hager, the director of NWES was in DC with Arntsen-Beaudin and also witnessed the speech.
“It was amazing,” Hager said.
She noted the audience included astronauts and scientists, at least one member of congress and, reportedly, Bill Nye, TV’s “Science Guy.”
“Her speech had humor in it,” she said. “She talked about what inspired her and how everyone is important and has a purpose and needs to go out and do good, and she also talked about how it was her 18th birthday the next day, and then there was a ripple effect of the entire audience singing Happy Birthday to her.”
Hager added, “It was just a very inspirational and down to earth speech where it felt like she was really conveying the emotion of what she was trying to say.”
Kate Witkowski, NWES’s high school adviser, also attended the dinner and heard the speech.
“It was beyond my expectations,” she said. “It was really special to see how impacted the crowd was by her speech, and see how they rallied for her and how poised she was. There were 2,000 people there. It was a really big deal and she was speaking alongside astronauts who had gone to the moon and she’s a high school student from northern Wisconsin, so it was beyond expectation. I was really moved to be part of her story.”
Arntsen-Beaudin said she found out about the scholarship by searching scholarship.com. She sent in an application that included her transcripts, a statement of interest, three letters of recommendation and a three-minute video explaining why she was inspired by space.
Out of several thousand applications, Arntsen-Beaudin’s was chosen as one of five winners from among high school, college and graduate students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Then as one of the five finalists, she had to submit a keynote speech and do a live meeting where she gave a five-minute presentation via Skype.
“They called me and they’re like, ‘Yeah, we just called you to discuss a bit about your speech and some feedback and also to tell you that you won,’” she said, “and I was like speechless. Really, the tone they were using I thought they were trying to fool me.”
Arntsen-Beaudin’s speech was recorded and will be posted online in about a week, but here she offers a synopsis of what she said.
“It was more how I relate to the universe or, like, more how I relate to the earth and my place in this world in the universe,” she said. “I talked a lot about this picture called the ‘Pale Blue Dot,’ a picture that was taken by the Voyager 1 Space Probe on Valentine’s Day 1990, taken, like, 4 billion miles from Earth. And then the picture is mostly a dark gray with a few big beams of light throughout. And then on the right hand side, there’s a tiny, tiny, pale blue dot. And that’s Earth. It’s really incredible.
“So I talked about that in my speech. I talked about different stories in my life of people just giving me opportunities, and really just helping me and supporting me. And I never really understood why they supported me or, like, what that meant. And then at the end of the speech, it kind of goes into that — when people see something special in me, it wasn’t just my high grades or art or any other skill that would be listed on a resume. It’s just me. It’s all of me.”
What lies ahead
Arntsen-Beaudin plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall to pursue a Ph.D. in environmental science and eventually work at NASA in the climate change research division.
But just a year ago her focus was art. Then during the second semester of her junior year she completed an independent learning project about wolf hunting in Wisconsin and realized she had a passion for environmental science. That September she joined the college’s American Indian Science and Engineering Society and attended a national conference and career fair where she spoke to representatives of national laboratories, NASA and Boeing.
“There were some really big names in science recruiting students for different internships or to graduate school,” she said. “It really opened my eyes to the opportunities that the science field has to offer, and when I came back I changed my major to science.”
Nelson said in the past keynote speakers were paid, but about 10 years ago the foundation decided a scholarship winner should give the speech. The result was stimulating presentations and, often, internship offers being showered upon the speaker. Arntsen-Beaudin is not exception.
One of her internship offers came from the Ingenuity Team of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which received national recognition for developing a helicopter able to fly on the planet Mars.
“Two people from that team came up to me and offered me an internship for the summer of 2023,” Arntsen-Beaudin said.
She was also offered an internship this summer by the head of a commercial satellite imagery company, Planet Federal, working with Google Earth to develop technology to measure pollution daily, just like weather is measured.
“I was offered that internship this summer, but I have no idea where it will be,” she said.
The head of Amazon Alexa approached her in one of the hospitality suites and told her about Amazon and NASA working partnering to put Amazon Alexa on a rocket orbiting the moon. She was asked to visit Texas and be a part of the operation while the rocket is in space.
In addition to internship offers, Arntsen-Beaudin was approached by a journalist from “SatMagazine,” an aerospace publication, who wants to interview her for a podcast segment.
And Vice President Kamala Harris’s Executive Secretary Chirag Parikh invited Arntsen-Beaudin to a private tour of the White House in late May.
Beyond internship offers, Arntsen-Beaudin learned that night after she gave her speech that the foundation had decided on the spot to increase her scholarship form $10,000 to $15,000.
The just-turned-18-year-old said she is processing everything that has happened to her so suddenly.
“I’ve had so many ask me about the speech,” she said. “I’ve just been saying there were really rich and really famous and respected people from aerospace people there. They were all dressed up fancy, so after I gave my speech I walked into some hospitality suites and everyone just turned and looked at me and smiled and then I had people coming up to me saying that they loved my speech and that, like, I made them cry with my speech.”
People who know Arntsen-Beaudin are very impressed by this young woman. Michael Heim, science professor at LCOOC, said she is one of the best students he has ever taught.
Hager describers her as someone who is a “hard worker” who has “grit.”
“When she puts her mind to something, she is going to do it. She uses her passion and her interest to just throw her whole self into whatever is her next goal,” she said.
Nelson of the National Space Club said her team working with Arntsen-Beaudin could tell she was special.
Jeff Nania, one of the inspirations and founders of NWES, has known Arntsen-Beaudin for several years and also said she is one who doesn’t give up and sticks to projects to “accomplish something great.” He is proud of her and proud of the school that nurtured her and helped shape her vision.
He also noted that Arntsen-Beaudin is a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe, and Nelson said she is also the first Native American to have given the keynote speech at the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Dinner.
Photos by Larry Canner