Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the first woman of color to travel to outer space, urged graduating University of Arizona students on Friday night to "live deeply and look up."
"Today is really about taking the opportunity to think about where you want to be," said Jemison, a former NASA astronaut who gave the keynote address at the UA's 155th Commencement.
"I believe that life is best when you live deeply and you look up," she said.
UA President Robert C. Robbins, who introduced Jemison as an "intergalactic rock star," conferred about 6,700 degrees during the ceremony, which was attended by about 4,500 students and more than 40,000 guests.
Jemison emphasized to the Class of 2019 how connected we all are, and how the many different challenges facing the world today – challenges that new graduates will be asked to help solve – affect everyone.
"It's really important that we recognize we are connected – that this world will not go anywhere, that we will not have a future if we don't recognize our connections with other peoples, if we don't recognize our connection with this Earth and our universe," she said.
In a time when we are often consumed by screens and things that make us "look down," it's especially important to do just the opposite, Jemison said. "By looking up, we see a bigger picture," she said.
Jemison urged students not to shy away from challenges, to always have empathy, to remember what inspires them and to "understand that you have a right to evolve over time."
She also encouraged them to keep some lightness about them.
"Take your work seriously, but don't take yourself so seriously that you can never laugh and never smile," she said.
Jemison served as a NASA astronaut for six years and was the first woman of color in the world to go into space, aboard a joint space shuttle mission with the Japanese space agency. After leaving NASA, she founded two companies, including The Jemison Group Inc., a technology consulting firm integrating critical sociocultural issues into the design of engineering and science initiatives.
She is at the forefront of integrating the physical and social sciences with art and culture to solve problems and foster innovation. Among other projects, she currently leads 100 Year Starship, a bold, far-reaching nonprofit initiative to assure the capabilities exist for human travel beyond our solar system to another star within the next 100 years.
Jemison was one of two honorary degree recipients at this year's Commencement, receiving a Doctor of Humane Letters from the UA College of Humanities.
Victor Smith received an honorary Doctor of Science from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Smith is CEO of JV Smith Companies, a diverse group of operations with farming, cooling and distribution facilities and shipping capacities in Arizona, California, Colorado and Baja, Mexico. He's also a longtime supporter of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and gave the university a $1.5 million gift to establish the Victor P. Smith Endowed Chair in Food Safety Education.
This year's Alumni Achievement Award winner was Andy Harris, who graduated from the UA with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1987 and has remained a loyal UA supporter, helping the UA Alumni Association to develop, fund and pilot the innovative Wildcat Mentor Society in 2018.
Seven graduating seniors were recognized for their outstanding achievements and contributions. The Provost Award went to Anita Jones (human services); the Robert Logan Nugent Award went to Tala Shahin (physiology and Arabic) and Alexa Nguyen (molecular and cellular biology); the Robie Gold Medal Award went to Francy D. Luna Diaz, (political science and law) and Bryn Deana Sharp (Spanish and Latin American studies); and the Merrill P. Freeman Medals went to Katrina M. Konopka (chemistry) and Yezan Hassan (neuroscience and cognitive science; molecular and cellular biology; physiology; and Arabic)