Neil deGrasse Tyson Talks About Seeing His First Night Sky

And why he’s not interested in your brilliant kid.

On the most recent episode of The Thrive Global Podcast, Thrive Global founder and CEO Arianna Huffington sat down with celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, author of the recent book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Among topics ranging from Donald Trump to our use of technology, deGrasse Tyson and Huffington talked about the importance of great educators, and how they shaped the type of teacher and person deGrasse Tyson has become.

deGrasse Tyson grew up in New York City, which, as Huffington points out, isn’t exactly the most ideal locale for stargazing. But at nine years-old, deGrasse Tyson saw the “actual” night sky at the Hayden Planetarium, part of the city’s American Museum of Natural History.

“I would have never done astrophysics if it hadn’t been for the actual night sky projected on the dome of my local planetarium,” he said. “I thought it was a hoax. I thought I’d seen this night sky from the Bronx. It has 12 stars in it, this can’t be real!”

deGrasse Tyson said he still thinks back to that experience: “To this day, I’m almost embarrassed to say that when I go to mountain tops and these spectacular vistas and it’s just you and the universe and nothing between the two of you, I look up and I think to myself, ‘that reminds me of the Hayden Planetarium.’”

He has other reminders of the planetarium as well, since he’s now it’s director, teaching thousands of people about the cosmos through programs like the ones he once took. deGrasse Tyson spoke about how the planetarium program teachers made him think, “If I’m ever an educator one day, that’s the kind of educator I want to be,” adding, “It was stupefying that a person could know that much about something as vast as the universe.”

In perhaps the most poignant moment in the episode, deGrasse Tyson told Huffington that he often hears from parents whose kids are excelling in school, but he wants to meet the kids who aren’t the stars of their classrooms. “When I get letters from parents and their kid is getting straight A’s and they’re on the honor roll,I’m thinking ‘Yes, I’ll still meet the kid,’ but the kid doesn’t need me. They’re already at the top of their class, this is a waste of both of our time.

He wants to meet the kid who’s “maybe failing out of school, who doesn’t have the interest in learning, who is struggling maybe even with basic math,” he said. “That’s the kid I want to talk to. Because I might make a difference in that kid’s life. There are too many other kids who are struggling, who might be dead or worse in the street without some kind of intervention.”

And just as that early experience with the night sky changed him forever, deGrasse Tyson said his “only obligation to myself is that I serve the next generation of future scientists the way educators and scientists have served me.”

To hear the full conversation, click here.

You can also listen to the Thrive Global podcast internationally for free on iTunes and Stitcher.

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