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Issue No. 7—Summer 2013
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Tyson to grads: Future of exploration in your hands

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson recalled President John F. Kennedy’s famous “We will go to the moon” speech at Rice Stadium and discussed the drivers of exploration, but what he most wanted to talk about at Rice University’s 100th commencement ceremony May 11 was Apollo 8.

 “It was unheralded but it was the first mission to leave Earth and go somewhere else,” Tyson said of the 1968 mission around the moon that prepared NASA – and humanity – to land on another world less than a year later.

“It orbited the moon, came around the back side. They held up a camera and there was Earth, rising over the lunar surface,” he said. “That, to this day, is the most recognized photograph of anything at any time of any object.”

Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, told 1,742 graduates, their family and friends in the Rice Academic Quadrangle of the immediate impact that photo had.

Tyson, whose wife, Alice Young '79, is a Rice alumna, challenged the new graduates to become part of the new drive to discover. “There is no solution to a problem that does not embrace all we have created as a species,” he said. “The original seeds of the space program were planted right here on this campus, and I can tell you that in the years since we have landed on the moon, America has lost its exploratory compass.

“Now is the time for you, the Class of 2013, to lead the nation as Rice graduates once again.”

Rice awarded 1,801 degrees, with some students earning degrees in double and even triple majors. The university awarded 964 undergraduate and undergraduate professional degrees, and 837 graduate (master’s and Ph.D.) degrees.

Rice President David Leebron welcomed the graduates with thanks for the crisp air that followed two days of rainstorms in Houston. “Father (T.J.) Martinez, who will give the invocation, and I come from different religious traditions and were engaged in an active discussion about who should get credit,” he said. Shortly thereafter, Martinez happily took credit.

Leebron also named this year’s winner of an annual award presented in honor of the commencement speaker. Sumedh Warudkar '13 won the 2013 Neil deGrasse Tyson Commencement Award for Civic Service and Communication.

More about Rice University’s 100th commencement ceremony, including photos and video, can be found at http://news.rice.edu/2013/05/11/tyson-to-grads-future-of-exploration-in-your-hands/