Astronomy teacher Donna C. Pierce, wearing a periwinkle spacesuit and signature red lipstick, greeted every attendee personally before her final starry sky show in her namesake planetarium.
After 41 years of educating students across Highland Park ISD, she could “go down the rows” and find so many familiar faces in her last audience.
“There were students, there was family, astronomy club, there were all ages,” she said.
Former student Field Parsons, whose mother was also a student of Pierce’s, helped organize the final show.
He initially met Peirce during his second-grade birthday party, which featured a show about black holes led by the “planetarium lady” herself.
Parsons would later become a four-year member and, eventually, president of her astronomy club when he reached high school.
Although Parsons did not pursue astronomy in college, he carries on what he calls “one percent” of Pierce’s legacy by giving occasional star shows to his friends with his telescope.
“That one percent of the monstrosity of love and experience and care that she has is enough for just about anybody,” he said.
Former students make it clear that one of the most memorable annual events in astronomy was the trip to the McDonald Observatory in Marfa, Texas. There, they learned from astronomers and observed the stars, an experience that had a significant impact on astronomy club president Mattie Terrell.
The rising senior called that first trip to the observatory her freshman year “life-changing.”
“It opened my eyes to something that I was really passionate about,” Terrell said.
Pierce described watching students like Parsons grow as the most rewarding part of her career at HPISD.
There were students, there was family, astronomy club, there were all ages.Donna C. Pierce
Unlike most teachers in the district, Pierce had the opportunity to teach students from nearly all grade levels. Starting in elementary school, students take busses to the planetarium.
“They’re just like sponges,” Pierce said. “They’re the best.”
Presenting anything from constellations to spectroscopy, Pierce draws in audiences of every age with her quick wit and matter-of-fact teaching.
While the visuals on the screen served their purpose beautifully during her final program, Donna Pierce stood out as the star of the show.
Her impact on the community cannot be reduced to her out-of-this-galaxy teaching prowess.
Over the past “41 orbits around the sun” in HPISD, Pierce has created a legacy as an exemplary educator, a coveted member of the community, and friend to all who know her.
Highland Park High School junior Juliet Allan loves to sing and write.