Colorado State University

NASA Astronaut and CSU Alumna Speaks at College of Natural Sciences’ Spring 2017 Commencement

If there was any doubt that a degree in the natural sciences could take you anywhere, NASA astronaut, Colorado State University alumna, and College of Natural Sciences spring 2017 commencement speaker Mary Cleave has put that doubt to rest.

The two-time shuttle mission specialist for NASA graduated from the college with a degree in biological science in 1969. “You never know what’s going to happen,” she said at the commencement ceremony on May 13. She never set out to go to space, she explained to the class of 2017 and their assembled families and friends, but her success and adventures were “all because of this degree.”

Cleave spent her undergraduate years at CSU studying botany, which was nice, she said, because it meant she got spend days up at Horsetooth – doing her fieldwork homework. As someone who is passionate about flora, she never imagined she would soon be recruited as an engineer. But that’s what she found herself doing in graduate school, eventually earning her Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering from Utah State University. This move – and her eventual trips into orbit – might have seemed to take her away from plants. But it actually allowed her, and the rest of us, to truly get the 35,000-foot (or 300-mile) view of the key roles plants play in our ecosystems here on Earth, thanks to data and imagery gathered from that extraordinary vantage point.

This unexpected and exciting path, she said, is a reminder that “when opportunities open up, you really need to take them.”

And her message will travel far. This year’s graduating class was one of the college’s largest yet, with 453 undergraduate candidates for this spring, and 130 candidates for summer degrees. And they are going on to exciting things – graduate school, jobs in industry, and teaching science and math to the next generation of students. Among the new graduates, were those graduating cum laude, summa cum laude, and from the University Honors Program, members of the military, and students who are the first in their families to graduate from a four-year college. And each was cheered on by the assembled crowd as they crossed the stage, ready to set out on their next big adventures.

As Dean Jan Nerger summarized, “We are all on our life journeys, and we don’t know where it will lead us. Even if you think you already have your direction set and know what is next, be open minded.”