Apollo 13 Astronaut Jim Lovell Tells Graduates to Expand Their Horizons
Jim Lovell, the Apollo 13 commander -- who uttered the memorable phrase, "Houston -- we've had a problem," before helping guide his crippled spacecraft back to earth -- stood before some 1,390 graduates and guests at Ithaca College's commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 17, and told them that they, too, have the ability to solve problems that at first seem unsolvable.
"As late as 1957," Lovell said, "scientist and radio pioneer Lee De Forest made this famous quote: 'Man will never reach the moon, regardless of all future scientific advances.' And that was just 11 years before I circled the moon in 1968."
The quality even De Forest lacked in this instance, said Lovell, was "a little foresight" -- the ability to look beyond conventional realities and see new possibilities.
"I have seen what foresight has accomplished in the science of space," Lovell told the new graduates. "But each of you, pursuing your college education, in your own particular field, in challenging times, can also ... dream and create and make your contribution to the future of mankind in this world. It will not always be clear that applying your knowledge and foresight will produce immediate results. There's always a shortsighted tendency in all of us to cancel our long-range goals if we cannot see immediate returns. But we must commit ourselves to long-range goals if we are able to succeed."
Lovell warned his audience that every major advancement of civilization has met with extreme resistance, but he urged the new graduates to be inspired by the accomplishments of Socrates, Einstein, Pasteur, and others who stretched possibilities and expanded horizons.
"My mother could hardly believe I circled the moon in 1968, but today my 43-year-old son doesn't think it's any big deal," Lovell said. "Because, after all, we had done it as long as he can remember. Your generation will stand on a higher hill because of the mountains we have climbed. And the whole world benefits from your ready acceptance of them. If you can take our accomplishments as commonplace, then think of the new horizons that you can see beyond."
Lovell recalled how circling the moon and looking back at Earth changed his outlook on life.
"My impression of Earth was one of an incredibly blue and white ball, much like a Christmas tree ornament, hung in an incredibly black sky ... You don't see boundaries or people, no whites or blacks or French or Greeks or Christians or Jews. The Earth looks completely uninhabited, and yet you know that on Spaceship Earth there live over six billion astronauts all seeking about the same things from life. When viewed in total, the Earth is a spaceship, just like Apollo. We are all the crew of Spaceship Earth. And the crew must learn and live and work together. We must learn to manage the resources of this world with new imagination. The future is up to you."
The ceremony began with Larry Alleva, vice chairman of the Ithaca College Board of Trustees, welcoming the new graduates to the fold of alumni.
The proceedings also included senior class president A. J. Mizes joining his fellow class officers in presenting the senior class gift to President Tom Rochon and alumni trustee Edgardo Rivera '88. In addition to $5,600 to be used for various allocations, the class raised $28,840 in support of naming the press box in the new Athletics and Events Center after the Class of 2009. The gift to the A&E facility will be matched by Atlantic Philanthropies. The total senior class gift is $63,280. (Groundbreaking for the A&E Center is planned for this summer.)
In addressing his fellow graduates and their guests, Mizes offered five guiding principles for success: remember where you came from, be happy, stop and enjoy what surrounds you, never stop learning, and, most important, cultivate the ability to love.
"I hope that as you go off today, you certainly can find love in everything you come across," Mizes said. "Whether that's a significant other, in your family, your friends and certainly in your career. Do what you love to do ... You have nothing but the brightest of things to offer our community, our nation, and the world."
Tom Rochon then spoke to his first Ithaca College commencement audience as president, reminding the graduates that they had completed four years at Ithaca College while he was about to complete his first. Rochon noted that he and his wife, Amber, had their first child, a son, less than two weeks ago. Like a graduation ceremony, he said, the arrival of a child marks the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another, and Rochon offered some observations on how to know if either kind of commencement is going well.
"If you look at the sky and the trees and everything around you, and you feel as if you are seeing these things for the first time, then you are having a successful commencement.
"If you find yourself intellectually and emotionally drawn to subjects that never held much interest for you before, then you are probably having a very good commencement.
"If you find new meaning and deep value in all your relationships with other people, then you just might be having an excellent commencement.
"If you realize that great things come in little packages, and that beauty is found in the smallest of details, then you are on track for a revelatory commencement.
"If you find yourself getting less sleep, but you still feel more alive than ever before, then congratulations. Your commencement is everything a commencement can and should be.
"I wish you each a wonderful and transformative commencement today, with many equally wonderful commencements to come throughout the rest of your lives."
In addition to honoring its new graduates, the College awarded opera singer and teacher Sharon Sweet an honorary doctor of music degree. After earning her master of music degree in vocal performance from the Ithaca College School of Music in 1978, Sweet went on to an international career that included lead roles in the opera houses of Berlin, Vienna, Zurich, Paris, and Rome, as well as at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Since 1999 she has been on the voice faculty of Westminster College.
The college also conferred emeritus status on retired faculty members Andrew Ezergailis (history), Paulen Smith (physics), Stephen Schwartz (philosophy and religion), Heinz Koch (chemistry) and Joel Savishinsky (anthropology).
Originally published in Intercom: Apollo 13 Astronaut Jim Lovell Tells Graduates to Expand Their Horizons.