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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

What defines an extraordinary life? This week's edition spotlights a military leader whose career revealed the meaning of heroism; an astronaut who viewed Earth from a perspective no human had before; and the legacy of a young Black woman whose death galvanized Americans into confronting racism with a new spirit of activism.

They're among the offerings designed to make sure you continue to enjoy what you,ve come to value from Smithsonian Associates: programs and experiences that are entertaining, informative, eclectic, and insightful.

The Hero Code

Admiral William H. McRaven and Walter Isaacs (McRaven photo by Holly Reed)

It's been 10 years since Admiral William H. McRaven, U.S. Navy (Ret.) launched the successful raid against Osama bin Laden. Quite an accomplishment for Bill McRaven, a young boy growing up in Texas dreaming of being a superhero who longed to put on a cape and use his superpowers to save the Earth from destruction. As he grew older and traveled the world, he found real heroes everywhere he went-and none of them had superpowers, much less capes or cowls. But each possessed qualities that gave them the power to help others, to make a difference, and to save the world: courage, both physical and moral; humility; a willingness to sacrifice; and a deep sense of integrity.

He learned the hero code is not a cypher, a puzzle, or a secret message. It's a code of conduct, lessons in virtues that can become the foundations of character to build a life worthy of honor and respect. In a wide-ranging Smithsonian Associates Streaming interview with author and professor Walter Isaacson on Monday, June 7, McRaven talks about the true sources of heroism chronicled his new book The Hero Code: Lessons Learned From Lives Well Lived.

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Rooted in Place

Botanical illustration by Lubna Zahid

Culture, geography, folklore, or traditions can define a place. Why not a tomato? Or even kelp? Jonathan Drori's new book Around the World in 80 Plants (Laurence King Publishing) does just that as he looks at how the science of plants is intricately connected to the identities and histories of locations across the globe. Smithsonian magazine spotlights several from Drori's selections, digging into the connections between wormwood and France, vanilla and Madagascar, the chrysanthemum and Japan, and amaranth and Peru, among other links. And that kelp? Forests of it provide nutrition and habitats for invertebrates and fish along the coastlines of Scotland and the United States. Dessert-lovers everywhere can thank it too: Its alginates help to sweeten up ice cream.

The world of plants also plays a role in upcoming Smithsonian Associates Streaming programs. Find inspiration for your own garden in the spectacular showcase that's the annual Philadelphia Flower Show (Wednesday, May 26) just before the opening of its 2021 edition. Flex your non-green thumb as you learn to craft bright and colorful gerbera daisies from cut crepe paper that will outlast the garden variety for months (Saturday, June 5). Or build on your botanical painting skills in a studio arts class as you create vibrant watercolors inspired by nature (beginning July 6).

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Portraits of Activism

Amy Sherald (American, b. 1973) Breonna Taylor 2020 Oil on linen © Amy Sherald. Courtesy of Amy Sherald. Photo: Joseph Hyde

Another Amy Sherald panting is coming to the Smithsonian. Sherald-who created Michelle Obama's official portrait at the National Portrait Gallery-was commissioned to posthumously paint Breonna Taylor for the cover of Vanity Fair's September 2020 issue on activism. The portrait has been jointly acquired by the Speed Art Museum in Louisville and the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, where it is planned to go on view later this year.

It's currently the centerpiece of an exhibition at the Speed titled Promise, Witness, Remembrance that reflects on the life of Taylor, her killing in 2020, and the year of protests that followed, in Louisville and around the world. The exhibition is organized around the three words of its title, which emerged from a conversation between curator Allison Glenn and Tamika Palmer, mother of Breonna Taylor, during its planning. In a behind-the-portrait interview, Sherald was clear about what guided her as she worked: "I made this portrait for her family. I mean, of course I made it for Vanity Fair, but the whole time I was thinking about her family."

Washington, D.C., activist Tony Lewis Jr. is the newest special guest in a Tuesday, May 18 Smithsonian Associates Streaming program featuring social justice leader Tamika D. Mallory that draws on themes from her new book State of Emergency: How We Win in the Country We Built (Atria/Black Privilege Publishing). Lewis, a community leader and champion for children with incarcerated parents, joins a roundtable discussion about racial inequality with comedian, actress, and producer Tiffany Haddish; model and activist Emily Ratajkowski; and April Ryan, White House correspondent, CNN political analyst, and D.C. bureau chief for theGrio, who serves as moderator.

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Recalling the "Loneliest Man" in Space

Michael Collins stands in front of the steel skeleton of the new National Air and Space Museum in July 1974. (Photo: Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum)

"The thing I remember most is the view of planet Earth from a great distance. Tiny. Very shiny. Blue and white. Bright. Beautiful. Serene and fragile."-Astronaut Michael Collins

To most of the world, the late astronaut Michael Collins, who served as the command module pilot for the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969, was known as the "loneliest man in history" for orbiting the moon for nearly 28 hours as he waited for for Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong to complete their explorations. In the world of the Smithsonian, he was celebrated as a driving force behind the National Air and Space Museum, serving as its third director from 1971 to 1978. In honor of Collins, who died on April 28, NPR shared a sound bite from a 2019 interview with Scott Simon in which he eloquently spoke about his experience suspended in time and space.

Collins was selected as part of NASA's third group of astronauts in 1963, and his lifetime encompassed the beginnings of space exploration as well as an era in which four astronauts would recently spend six months aboard the International Space Station. (Their Gulf of Mexico splashdown in SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, initially set for April 28, took place four days later.)

He also entered the space program at a time when it was shadowed by Cold War tensions between the United States and Russia. John Glenn's February 1962 flight aboard Friendship 7 had carried both significant scientific and political hopes during what President John F. Kennedy called the "hour of maximum danger" during America's competition with the Soviet Union over which country would dominate the future of space discovery. In a Wednesday, June 2 Smithsonian Associates Streaming program, Jeff Shesol draws on his new book Mercury Rising: John Glenn, John Kennedy, and the New Battleground of the Cold War (WW Norton and Company) to examine how that rivalry played out.

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Virtual Adventures, Real Creative Fun

Do you have a budding young artist, photographer, or digital expert in your life? They'll love the Master Class offerings that are part of Smithsonian Summer Virtual Adventures. Designed for students in Grades 6 to 11, these weeklong studio courses help them develop specialized skills as they create personal projects inspired by Smithsonian collections. They can try their hand at digital comic books or illuminated stories, turn recycled materials into art, learn how to take great cell-phone camera shots, build explorable 3D digital environments, create designs for theatrical sets and costumes, and even be mentored by Super Art Fight singles champ Margaret Huey. Virtual Adventures Master Classes begin the week of June 28 and run throughout the summer, with daily two-hour sessions Monday through Friday at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Browse Our Virtual Summer Adventures Offerings