March 20, 2012

Mark Kelly to present commencement keynote

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Mark Kelly, who served as commander of the space shuttle Endeavour on its final mission last year, will be the keynote speaker for Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s three commencement ceremonies on May 12.

“I am delighted that Captain Kelly has agreed to serve as our keynote speaker,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said.  “I am confident the message he will deliver, ‘Endeavour to Succeed,’ will resonate with our graduating students and their families.”

A sought-after keynote speaker, Kelly is an American hero who inspires others to be their best while remaining true to their core values.  He exemplifies leadership, the importance of teamwork, and courage under pressure.           

A retired U.S. Navy captain, Kelly is a best-selling author, prostate cancer survivor and experienced naval aviator who flew combat missions during the Gulf War.  He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Legion of Merit, two Defense Superior Service Medals and two Distinguished Flying Crosses.

He is married to former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who continues her recovery from a January 2011 assassination attempt.  The Arizona Democrat, first elected in 2006, retired from Congress in January 2012 to focus on her recovery.  The couple shares their story of hope and resilience in their best-selling memoir, “Gabby.”

Kelly was selected as the commencement speaker as part of the campus initiative to link graduation to the theme that “big things are within reach” for all SIU Carbondale students.

“Our curriculum and research strengths, particularly in such areas as cancer research, aviation, and rehabilitation, combined with Mark Kelly’s message, further emphasize the critical role of our faculty and staff in addressing important national concerns,” Cheng said.

“SIU Carbondale is well known for preparing students for the many challenges life will present,” she added.  “”Captain Kelly’s life story of courage, perseverance and preparation will inspire our students as they enter the next chapter in their lives.”

Kelly earned a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering and nautical science from the United States Merchant Marine Academy, and a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.

He was selected as an astronaut in 1996.  He flew his first of four missions in 2001 aboard Endeavour.  He also commanded space shuttle Discovery, and is one of only two individuals to visit the International Space Station on four different occasions.

Kelly has logged 6,000 flight hours in more than 50 different aircraft, 375 aircraft carrier landings, 39 combat missions and more than 50 days in space.

Admission to the May 12 commencement ceremonies is free, and tickets are not required.  Ceremonies will take place at 9 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.