by Luke Setzer
My life story began in 1966, when I was born in North Carolina. My parents owned a farm, so I learned early in life and first-hand about unpleasant work. I decided at a young age that I was going to find an easier way to make a living. Fortunately, my folks sympathized and made sure I got a strong education starting from kindergarten onward. No slacking was allowed! I progressed through the grades and eventually earned the term "gifted", allowing me access to those "special" classes with which many readers are already familiar.
My hard work paid off, and I was able to attend a six-week "Governor's School" program during the summer between tenth and eleventh grade. This was my first real exposure to people outside my rural "box" of thinking. This program placed a heavy emphasis on liberal arts while also allowing students to focus on their special areas of interest. (Mine was "Natural Science," with a focus on biology and quantum mechanics.) What I found particularly mind-blowing and disturbing during this period, though, was the philosophy course. My Christian upbringing did not prepare me for radical ideas ranging from Zen Buddhism to hedonistic subjectivism. By the end of the course I felt sandbagged and blindsided.
The story did not end there, though. The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) is a school for eleventh and twelfth grade students showing "gifts" in science and math.
I had spent the previous year jumping through various hoops to qualify for attendance, and succeeded. I basically moved out of the house when I was just sixteen years old and became a ward of the state. I made many friends there, and learned a great deal more than I would have at my regular high school. I also encountered more challenges to my ways of thinking, challenges that would haunt me for years to come.
I graduated high school in 1984 and spent the summer working in a furniture factory. That fall, I began earning my Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering at N.C. State University. During my sophomore year, I applied to various companies for employment as a cooperative education (co-op) student. (Co-op is a program of alternating semesters of school and work that offers students valuable job experience prior to graduation.) I finally landed an offer from NASA's Kennedy Space Center. I had always dreamed of working for the space program, so I was delighted. I started work January 9, 1986. Almost three weeks later, the shuttle Challenger exploded. During the lengthy stand down, I had plenty of time to ponder other issues to the point of absurdity. I had finally decided that there was no God, but did not really have any clue about how to form my own philosophy or how to go about forming opinions on any issue. As a result of this void, I fell in with a religious cult called "The Baptists" during my fourth and final co-op term, and thought I had finally discovered the Absolute Truth.
When I returned to N.C. State for my final semester of schooling, a friend encouraged me to write my conservative viewpoints in a regular opinion column to balance the school newspaper's very liberal slant. After reading my first article, another classmate loaned me a book that changed my life for the better. That book was The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand. Her writing promptly influenced my own opinions. I was already having recurring doubts about my faith, and Rand's essays were the final nail in the coffin of my theism.
After graduating from college in December 1988, I accepted a full-time position with NASA. About a year later, I met my beautiful wife, Leslie. We were married sixteen months later, and will soon celebrate our seventh anniversary. I also joined Mensa during this time, and became more active after I got married. I have enjoyed and appreciated the friendships and activities available through Space Coast Area Mensa (SCAM) these last few years.
I have spent a significant chunk of my time since 1994 preparing for the Professional Engineer's (PE) Licensing Exam. Believe me when I suggest that candidates should start preparing right out of college. It is amazing how much a person can forget in such a short time! I finally passed it in October 1997.