It was the beginning of winter in 1971. Vietnam was winding down and I was now 24 years old and in college at Embry Riddle Aeronautical Institute in Daytona Beach Florida. I had recently left the Navy after a four year hitch and was bent on getting a degree that would qualify me to get back into the Service as an officer and a pilot.
One of the courses I took was a broad science course that included a history of astronomy. It piqued my interest so; I joined the local Astronomical Association. I had no telescope and little extra money at the time but, I went to the star parties and, like many of us, was awed the first time I gazed on Saturn through the clubs 6 inch reflector.
I was hooked good! I managed to scrape enough dough together to buy a used Jason 60mm refractor of my own on a manually controlled equatorial mount and I began in earnest to learn the constellations and the Messier objects of the winter sky. Orion, Gemini, Auriga and the Kids became familiar friends who never failed to show up for the party. Polaris was there too always helping me to orient myself to the cardinal compass points.
One day, during a speech class in school, we were assigned to do a persuasive oration on any subject we wanted. I chose; WHY WE SHOULD STUDY THE SKY as my topic.
I explained to the class that the stars are one thing that all humanity has in common and, as part of our environment, that we all should have at least some basic knowledge of the universe around us. I described how a night under the quiet stars could be so relaxing and inspiring, how it could stimulate the imagination and how it could bring us to realize that there are bigger things in life than our own petty concerns. I also described some of the constellations viewable at descent hours and the techniques for identifying the North Star.
I thought I had made a convincing argument with my speech but, I was perplexed when one my classmates told me that he had not been persuaded to try astronomy and that he didn't think I had accomplished the goal of the assignment.
Several days later this same student came up to me. It seems he had been boating with a friend in the evening and had gotten pretty far from shore. The small boat had no compass and, when he looked for the lights of the beach, he could not see any. He was disoriented for a while until he remembered how to find north. Then he just kept Polaris on his right shoulder to head west toward shore. A few minutes later he could see the shore lights and made it back without incident. He thanked me and said he would pay more attention to the stars in the future. I was vindicated.