Iowa Wesleyan College alumna and NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson ’81, Sc.D. 03, challenged graduates to “choose the path that is not so easy” and set goals that are challenging and outside their comfort zone. Whitson was the featured speaker at the College’s commencement ceremony May 2, 2009
Whitson relayed some of her experiences as an astronaut during her two missions to space. She served as the first female commander of the International Space Station during Expedition 16, which returned to Earth in April 2008.
Whitson earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry at Rice University after graduating from Iowa Wesleyan with a double major in biology and chemistry. She worked at NASA for 10 years before being accepted into the astronaut program. She spent the next six years in training before being selected to a six-month mission to the International Space Station. Her second mission was five years later.
“The road to becoming ISS Commander took many years. There might have been simpler paths I could have taken, but I doubt that I would have experienced the same satisfaction of that accomplishment without first overcoming the difficulties and challenges in the journey to reach my goal,” she said.
She shared “the gouge” with the graduates. “Gouge is the information that astronauts share with each other so that the team can benefit from our mistakes and experiences,” she explained. “It is the behind-the-scenes knowledge that is not written down.”
Based on her experiences she offered four “bits of gouge:”
· Each of us can be extraordinary with a healthy dose of determination
· The most fulfilling and satisfying memories that you will have will involve being part of a team
· Do everything you can with what you have
· Attitude is everything
She closed by saying “I will be looking forward to seeing the challenges that are faced and surmounted and the accomplishments achieved by this group of IWC grads in the coming years. Because let’s face it – if an Iowa farmer’s daughter can command the International Space Station… then there really aren’t any limits on what you can accomplish!”