PETALUMA, Calif. (KRON) – A NASA astronaut born in Petaluma was honored by her hometown on Tuesday. The mayor and city council proclaimed it as Nicole Mann Day.

Mann, a NASA commander, was showered with an extended jubilant greeting Tuesday by thousands of students from five different schools in Petaluma.

“It’s hard to even describe the emotions because coming back home and seeing all the kids and they’re so excited and inspired, and I just hope that they can follow along on my journey and this story and hopefully that keeps their dream alive,” she said. 

The Nicole Mann Day proclamation was presented at Petaluma High School. The commander addressed the crowd, saying becoming an astronaut was not always in the cards.

“When I was your age, I didn’t have it all figured out, but I knew I wanted to serve in the military,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of something bigger than just me.”

Mann is married, living in Houston Texas and raising an 11-year-old son. She served in the U.S. Marine Corps, flying F-18s before joining NASA.

But she cherishes any chance she has to come back home. During her visit, she shook as many hands as she could, signed autographs, and visited with students who are a part of NASA’s Hunch program, which builds parts for the international space station.

It was fitting for Mann, who spent more than five months there last year as mission commander for NASA’s Space-x Crew 5. She became the agency’s first Native American woman in space.

“We recognize the classroom setting with history, but there’s just no comparison to actually having a historical figure in front of you, sharing their story,” said Joe Noriel with History Connection.

Mann’s parents Vicki and Howard Aunapu had a front seat to it all.

“She is an expert at getting the message out, especially to young people about how to proceed — pursue your dreams and keep working at a goal,” Howard said.

Mann’s advice to the kids was this, “If there’s a barrier in your way, break down that barrier. Go after it. Ask for help. Get the help that you can. Don’t be worried if you stumble along the way — it’s worth it in the end.”