NASA Chief Challenges/Inspires Record Commencement Crowd

May 2, 2015

Before a crowd in excess of 6,000 on a picture-perfect May morning, NASA Administrator, South Carolina native, and veteran astronaut Major General Charles Bolden challenged a record number of Anderson University graduates during commencement exercises on Saturday, to dream bold.

Bolden recalled his days growing up in a segregated South Carolina and how limited opportunities were for African Americans. He said his bold dreams and desire to serve his country led him beyond those obstacles to his position as the first African American to lead NASA on a permanent basis. Similarly, he said the graduates in AU’s class of 2015 faced daunting challenges as society is fractured by recent events. Still he said he firmly believes this generation will bring the dreams of the current generation to fruition.

“I want to invite you to close your eyes for a moment and imagine a future where robots and human beings work together to pioneer Mars and the rest of the Solar System,” he said. “Graduates, you are part of a generation that will visit an asteroid, walk upon the face of Mars, and yes, return home safely. Today we’re farther along on our journey to Mars than ever before in human history, and it’s your generation that will complete this journey.”

A 1968 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Bolden became a Marine Aviator and test pilot. He later became a NASA astronaut in August of 1981. A veteran of four space flights, Bolden logged more than 680 hours in space and piloted Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986, launching the SATCOM Ku band satellite, and Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990, deploying the Hubble Telescope.

Bolden was the first person to ride the Launch Complex 39 slidewire baskets which enable rapid escape from a Space Shuttle on the launch pad. The need for a human test was determined following a launch abort where controllers were afraid to order the crew to use the untested escape system.

In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Bolden to be administrator of NASA. Bolden has overseen the post-shuttle transition at NASA toward farther-reaching scientific goals, the ultimate of which is eventually landing astronauts on Mars. He was confirmed by the Senate on July 15,2009 and is the first African American to hold the post on a permanent basis.

Professor Tim Speaker, a professor in AU’s award-winning graphic design program was awarded the Boles Excellence in Teaching Award during commencement. The award is given by the faculty to a colleague for excellence in the classroom.

411 diplomas were conferred at graduation exercises (with more than 380 graduates taking part in the ceremony), including the first two doctoral degrees (Doctor of Ministry) awarded in Anderson University history. 45 Master’s degrees were also awarded. This was the 7th consecutive record graduating class at AU, named last year by The Chronicle of Higher Education as the 18th fastest growing regional college in America.