This coming Sept. 12 marks more than five decades since President John F. Kennedy stood in the center of Rice Stadium and argued for his vision of landing an American on the moon and returning him safely back to Earth, a vision requiring an unprecedented level of selfless devotion and service.
Even though the nation fulfilled JFK’s aspirations, his words represent more than reaching our nearest satellite because they continue to echo throughout the ages, both present and future. In the midst of some of the darkest of times, JFK challenged the entire human species to resist the urge to “look behind” and reach higher and further than it had ever done.
As students here at Rice, it is more imperative than ever before for us to heed this same message. In delivering his iconic speech on our campus, JFK solidified and gave power to Rice’s mission to provide “contributions to the betterment of our world ... [and] produce leaders across the spectrum of human endeavor.” He trusted Rice to create a better future in all aspects of life around us.
In some sense, Rice’s academic reputation and culture of care fulfill much of this mission and continue to do so. Scientific research across campus consistently pushes the boundaries of human knowledge, professors teach us technical and communication skills to enact change, and our peers provide us diverse perspectives that strengthen our empathy and foster kinship rather than conflict. However, this same academic prowess and culture of care sometimes translates into us striving towards attaining the best grades, landing the most prestigious internships, garnering the most leadership positions, caring more about our campus and peers than others in general, and otherwise spending time on short-term goals that best serve our individual selves.
Such goals are important but fall short of the standards of Rice’s mission and are also beneath the aspirations we all should hold and frequently reflect upon. As the world outside the hedges deals with critical issues such as climate change or socioeconomic tensions among countless others, and strives to further push the boundaries in areas such as space, economics, and global peace, we cannot become complacent and hesitate to engage these matters until some ill-defined date in the future long after graduation.
Instead, let us “do the[se] other things ... not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because [these] goal[s] will serve to ... measure the best of our energies and skills.” Let us focus less on gaining the most academic or material advantages in life and instead focus more on helping those around us that have little to none. Let us initiate and collaborate on projects that promise to better not just our campus but also all that lies outside it. Let us contemplate on the societal legacies we hope to leave both as individuals and as a collective student population, and let us not hesitate to pursue them. Let us aim higher, dream bigger, do greater, and do all this even in the face of failure or external expectations.
Let us have the courage to take moonshots.