2018 Chaffee Scholar did not go gentle into his passion for space

Patrick Morgan awarded prestigious scholarship for aerospace studies

Patrick Morgan with his parents, Scott and Judi Morgan (photo by Devin Hendrick Photography)

Do not go gentle into that good night …
Rage, rage against the dying of the light …
Do not go gentle into that good night.

At the climax of the movie “Interstellar,” this quote is recited from a popular poem by Dylan Thomas. Patrick Morgan, a senior at East Grand Rapids High School, was initially confused by what it meant. However, he has since derived a powerful message for his life,

“It’s basically saying don’t ever give up, keep pressing on,” said Patrick.

With this inspiration and an innate tenacity, Patrick has set out to accomplish large dreams — and it seems his efforts are paying off. He was recently awarded the 51st annual Roger B. Chaffee Scholarship to further his education in aerospace and engineering. He plans to put the $3,000 award towards his studies at the University of Michigan beginning this fall.

He received the honor at an awards dinner at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. The ceremony was followed by a talk from current NASA astronaut Lt. Col. Nicole Mann and a show in the planetarium named after Chaffee, the Grand Rapids-born astronaut who lost his life training for the Apollo space mission.

Patrick recalls feeling like a celebrity that night. “Everyone was excited to meet me; that was a new experience,” he said.

Patrick Morgan’s senior photo (courtesy of Katherine Tippett Photography)

Childhood Passion Turned Career Path

Though he was always “fascinated by space,” Patrick said, it wasn’t until sixth grade and a biography of Elon Musk, founder of the aerospace firm SpaceX, that he discovered his growing interest in engineering and realized aerospace engineering was a possible career path.

“Some people laugh at it and say it’s a far-fetched dream, but my parents always supported me with whatever I wanted to do,” said Patrick. “I just never really cared what other people thought, so this is what I set out to do.”

His determination — and that dose of motivation from the Dylan Thomas poem — prompted Patrick to work exceptionally hard in high school. A top-performing student, he is also hyper-involved in extracurriculars including varsity lacrosse and cross country, student council, and president of the Entrepreneurship Club and the Young Conservatives Club.

Patrick also volunteers as a tutor at Mulick Park Elementary in Grand Rapids. He was was paired with one student for the whole year and cherishes the bond they were able to develop. He hopes to continue tutoring in college.

One of his favorite activities is helping the Billy Bear Hug Foundation. As a member of the Youth Advisory Board, Patrick participates in fundraising and gets to deliver stuffed animals, toys and care packages to children at local hospitals.

Patrick Morgan and the Chaffee scholarship committee at the award dinner at the Grand Rapids Public Museum (photo by Devin Hendrick Photography)

Positioned for Success

After Patrick’s teachers suggested he look into the Chaffee Scholarship, he researched Roger B. Chaffee and learned of the late NASA astronaut’s roots in Grand Rapids. Chaffee lost his life in a fire during a pre-launch simulation of the first manned mission of the Apollo lunar landing program. The tragedy brought much-needed safety upgrades and ultimately led to Apollo 11’s successful moon landing in 1969.

Inspired by Chaffee’s story, and seeing a direct alignment between his interests and the late astronaut’s passions, Patrick knew he had to apply. He spent hours preparing his application and writing his essay, in which he wrote, “I hope to enter the same risky business as Mr. Chaffee when I am older, and I hope to make meaningful contributions to space exploration.”

When he got the call from a member of the scholarship board saying he was selected, Patrick was overwhelmed. “I was so surprised,” he said.

A Humble Acceptance

As the 51st scholarship recipient, Patrick strongly attributes his accomplishments to the encouragement of his parents.

“They both are really good people and they work super-hard,” said Patrick, adding he is grateful for the award and how it will enable him to pursue his passions. “The biggest thing I’ve learned from this experience is the importance of having a great work ethic and the courage to pursue my own ambitions.”

He is looking forward  to college this fall and studying business and engineering at U-M. Eventually, Patrick hopes to work for NASA or SpaceX, then eventually start a tech company of his own.

“I’m excited to step into a new adventure where I have tons of opportunities,” he said.

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