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Tyson delivers commencement speech



By Molly Chiu     5/14/13 7:00pm

The clouds parted Saturday morning to celebrate Rice University's 100th commencement ceremony. During the ceremony, Rice awarded 1,801 degrees to graduate and undergraduate students, according to a Rice News and Media release.

Despite the inclement weather Friday evening, the ceremony was held outdoors in the Academic Quadrangle, and students processed rain-free out through the Sallyport as Rice graduates. The Rice University Emergency Alert System sent text messages, phone calls and emails to all students at 6:30 a.m. Saturday to let everyone know the ceremony would be held in the Academic Quad as scheduled.

Under sunny skies, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson took the stage to deliver the commencement address. Tyson discussed how the American space program inspired people to innovate and explore the universe. He said the drive for space exploration began at Rice 50 years ago with President John F. Kennedy's "We Choose to Go to the Moon" speech at Rice Stadium.

According to Tyson, in the 1960s, the United States was motivated to go to space by war and a desire to excel against the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Since the end of the Cold War, America has lost its motivation for pursuing space exploration, Tyson said. He said he hopes Rice graduates will bring back that desire to explore.

"In the years since we landed on the moon, America has lost its exploratory compass," Tyson said. "Now is the time for the Class of 2013 to lead the nation as Rice graduates once again."

Tyson specializes in the study of stars and galaxies. He is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, and he served on the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry in 2001. He has written several books about space, has hosted five seasons of the PBS series NOVA ScienceNOW, and he hosts his own radio show called StarTalk,President David Leebron noted in his introduction for Tyson.

During the speech, Tyson discussed his passion for studying space and how space exploration can bring a new perspective to life on Earth. In December 1968, the Apollo 8 mission, the first to leave Earth's orbit and reach the moon, took the first iconic picture of Earth from the perspective of the moon - a picture which Tyson said offered new insight about Earth.

"You go to the moon, you look back, and it's a whole new perspective - a cosmic perspective," Tyson said. "We went to the moon to explore, but in fact, we discovered Earth for the first time."

In addition, Tyson talked about how students graduate with special skills and knowledge particular to their major. He said this knowledge would help to diversity in innovation, but should also serve as a reminder that their knowledge is just one piece of the puzzle.

"Your diploma is not a ticket to show off what you know," Tyson said. "It's permission to admit to yourself how much you still have yet to learn."

Brown College senior Kevin Jackson said overall, Tyson's speech seemed to impart a good message for Rice graduates.

"The core of [Tyson's] speech was hidden at times, but in the end, his speech sought to reiterate what Rice has already told its students, which is that once we leave Rice, we have the potential and the power to impact our community, state and even country," Jackson said.

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