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Thursday, June 30, 2022

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‘Sky is definitely not the limit’ for graduates, says Scott Kelly in Commencement


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Scott Kelly told graduates to never stop exploring, because it’s in their DNA to continue on | Trey Strange/The Cougar

“I’m no Matthew McConaughey,” the speaker said to hundreds of hungry-to-graduate students.

But while McConaughey might have hurled himself through the great unknown onscreen in the blockbuster “Interstellar,” retired astronaut Scott Kelly has actually done it — twice.

And as this year’s University-wide Commencement speaker, Kelly told the graduates to set the bar high — stratosphere high — but in each their own way.

“You just need to do what you can to make, while you’re here, to make the community and this planet a little bit better,” Kelly said. “And I know that you can do that.”

President and Chancellor Renu Khator began the program, which was supposed to take place in       TDECU stadium but moved because of a flash flood warning and a safety hazard in the stands due to lightning. The University quickly moved the event, and soon a brass quintet from the Moores School of Music was playing “Pomp and Circumstance” in the Hofheinz Pavilion.

“You can do whatever you want. You can be whatever you want,” Khator said. “You are the pride. Be successful. Be happy. And be whatever you can be.”

Peiwen Lu knows what she wants to be: a nurse.

“I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do next,” she said.

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Despite the bad weather for a second year in a row, hundreds came to the Hofeheinz Pavilion to celebrate the University-wide Commencement. | Ajani Stewart/The Cougar

Peiwen attended the ceremony as one of few in the first graduating class of the new School of Nursing, which she said was a very rigorous program. Soon, she’ll take the certification exam and be ready to start a job, she hopes.

“But I need more experience,” Peiwen said.

Kelly knows about not having enough experience. He said that, in high school, he was the kid who couldn’t pay enough attention.

Yet in 2015, Kelly spent 340 days in space. He cajoled 25 times the speed of sound around the Earth, watching the blue planet light up and fade for nearly a year — the longest a U.S. citizen has ever spent outside the planet.

“We can go to Mars if we choose to go to Mars. We can cure cancer, if we choose to cure cancer,” Kelly said.

Recent graduate Meaghan Kennedy has already made a choice: a bachelor’s isn’t her limit. Even though she’s graduating a year early, the math whiz will return to school sometime in the next year to complete studies in actuarial science.

But, for now, she wore her cap and gown to Hofheinz and sang the alma mater alongside the rest of the recent degree-holding graduates, and she’s celebrating the end of school just like everyone else.

“I feel amazing,” Kennedy said.

Kelly knew that feeling of amazement on his last trip to the International Space Station. As he left, knowing full well that it may be his last time seeing the spacecraft, he wondered over the accomplishment.

“I was struck by this incredible achievement,” Kelly said. “I was inspired at how
this (was) the hardest thing I could have ever done.”

By the end of the evening, as the graduates rose, congratulated each other and twisted their tassels across their caps, Kelly hoped they would learn to do the difficult things — because, he said, these were the things that made the world, and the galaxy, a better place.

“We need to work hard and take care of our environment, because it’s what keeps us alive,” Kelly said. “We can choose to do the hard things — and if we do that, then the sky is definitely not the limit.”

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