Astronaut Nicole Stott delivered the commencement address Saturday to SPC graduates. Afterwards, she answered some questions on a range of topics. The text of her speech follows. It is interspersed with some short videos from her interview.
Good morning and greetings to all of our honored guests, to the college faculty and administration, families, friends and of course most especially to our graduates.
First I’d like to thank you for inviting me to share this day with you. It is a real honor to be here. It’s hard for me to believe it was almost 30 years ago – over a lifetime ago for most of you – when I was attending SPJC. The Aviation Administration program at the time is what I believe gave me the first real solid steps towards pursuing my passion for flying and preparing me to later study aeronautical engineering and ultimately to be standing here before you today as a NASA astronaut.
I’m pretty sure that you all have some celebrating planned after today’s ceremony so I’ll try to be brief.
I’d like to start a slideshow to play in the background as I speak. I was blessed with the opportunity last year to spend 3 months living and working on the International Space Station. Aside from the launch, landing and pictures from my spacewalk, these are some of the pictures I took while I was on orbit. I apologize because it’s another case of the picture not doing what you see justice. Our planet and I think our spacecraft are really just too beautiful to capture with a picture.
So I stand here before you today as an example of what can happen if you follow a dream. It’s still very surreal to me that I had the opportunity to see our planet from a 200 mile vantage point and circling it once every 90 minutes.
For some reason I always thought that seeing the Earth from space would make it seem like we’re all pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But instead it surprised me to feel the total opposite. Instead, every time I looked out the window I had this sense of everything having its place and reason. Here we all are riding on this planet that is situated at the perfect distance from the sun and providing us with everything we need to survive. And each of us has a place and reason. Sometimes that place and reason aren’t all that easy to figure out, but I guess that’s what life is all about.
I thought I’d share some of the things that have stood out for me as I’ve been figuring out my place and reason. My apology in advance because none of these are new.
Pay attention to the things you enjoy and let them guide you.
I was so happy when I realized this simple thing. It was like the lightbulb turning on — Wow, maybe I can have a job that has something to do with the things I think are fun….
I think there’s a reason why each of us enjoy certain things and that very different things can bring each of us joy. It’s having a real passion for something. And it’s great when what you have a passion for can be part of your life – to feel its influence over all kinds of choices you make like career and family.
For me, flying was the passion that influenced my choices the most. I was really fortunate to grow up with a dad who loved to fly and build planes. As a family we spent a lot of time when I was growing up hanging out at the local airport (some of you may know it – Clearwater Airpark off Hercules). My dad shared his passion for flying with me and I believe it was the single biggest influence on the path I took for school and a career. So I’ve found it’s important to be true to yourself and let the things you enjoy help guide you.
There are sometimes people that know you better than you know yourself.
Along the way through school and work I have found there were people that seemed to see and appreciate things in me that I wouldn’t necessarily see or appreciate in myself. These are the people that I think of now as my mentors. For me, the biggest example of this was deciding to actually apply for the astronaut office. If it wasn’t for the encouragement I received from these people I never would have believed enough in myself to even apply. It takes a lot sometimes to trust in yourself and what you’re capable of. You can do yourself a big favor by trusting in the people who know you best.
Be happy – be positive – have a good attitude
There is pretty much no situation where this won’t serve you well. Even when things aren’t going like you planned. I was so fortunate to spend 3 months living on a space station with a happy crew of 6. We worked hard and we had a good time.
The only easy day was yesterday (think this is a Navy Seal motto).
And I don’t mean it quite as strong as it sounds.
But simply to say that every day will present you with its own unique challenges. I think someone said once that we should look at these challenges as opportunities. Opportunities to learn more about ourselves, about our own capabilities and about the world around us. I don’t know who that someone was, but I think they’re right.
Take the high road – Do your best – Don’t forget the golden rule to “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you”. These are the simple things that will always serve you well. Be true to your word and always remember that the things you say can have a huge impact on others.
And of course the old, stop and smell the flowers. Whatever path you’re taking after you leave here today, you should feel confident that you have prepared well and you should take the time to discover and enjoy the little surprises that will meet you along the way. It’s these little surprises that really seem to make life’s experiences an adventure.
I know when I went to space I had very high expectations of what the whole experience would be like. I found that every expectation I had was exceeded and it was because of the surprises / the little things that I didn’t expect. There were things like the smell of space that was encountered any time the airlock was opened up after a spacewalk or on the hatch of an arriving spacecraft. Things like how quickly and almost effortlessly our bodies adapt to a new environment – how floating and pushing with your fingertip gently off a wall and grabbing the next handrail becomes natural for getting around and you don’t even think about walking as the way to go. And for me, like others before me, I was totally surprised and in awe of the overwhelming, glowing beauty of our planet. Everyday up there I was blessed with the opportunity to spend some time looking out the windows towards home and seeing things I never would have expected. Moving around the planet every 90 minutes, with the orbit slightly shifting and taking you over someplace new, with the sun rising and setting gracefully across the horizon every 45 minutes, the moon brilliantly popping into view and then squishing as it set into the thin glowing blue line of our atmosphere. I couldn’t help but look at the Earth and see anything other than this living, beautiful thing, that always seemed to be sharing some changing emotion or different side of its personality – sometimes very calm and peaceful and other times very dynamic and aggressive.
I’m really thankful for the special surprises I’ve encountered along my way and while I was living on the space station, and I’m especially thankful that the design of the space station included windows.
Well I hope you enjoyed the pictures from space that played in the background. I hope they helped you discover something new about our planet and maybe something new about the journey you have ahead of you. For me, there’s always some new surprise every time I look at them.
There are amazing opportunities out there.
I wish the best for all of you — Success and happiness and that all your dreams come true.
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