Astronaut delivers motivational speech


Pu Ying Huang

Mark Kelly, NASA astronaut and husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, center, speaks at a reception after his “Endeavour to Succeed” lecture presented at the Lady Bird Johnson auditorium Monday evening. The event was hosted by UT’s Student Endowed Centennial Lectureship under chairman Michael Morton and vice chairman Jesse Hernandez, pictured to Kelly’s left and right side, respectively.

Hannah Jane DeCiutiis

Students who want to become effective leaders need to have a drive to succeed and the ability to overcome hardship, said renowned former American astronaut and United States Navy Capt. Mark Kelly in a lecture Monday evening.

Kelly is a noted American astronaut and naval aviator who retired in June 2011. He is well known for having commanded several shuttle missions, including Space Shuttles Endeavour and Discovery, and has the distinction of being one of only two people in the world to have visited the International Space Station four times. He is the husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was the victim of an assassination attempt in January 2011, leaving her in recovery for more than eight months. UT is the first University in Texas to host Kelly as a speaker.

Kelly gave a lecture titled “Endeavour to Succeed” as part of the Student Endowed Centennial Lectureship, which brings prominent speakers to the University each year and is funded by students through an optional $2 donation during the registration process.

Kelly spoke about his early struggles in flight school and said he refused to let his failure to excel allow him to falter in achieving his ultimate goal of becoming an astronaut. Kelly said his drive to succeed was the key to his accomplishments later in life.

“I was not a particularly good pilot,” Kelly said. “I really, really struggled and had a hard time with learning how to fly an airplane. But I stuck with it, and later realized that how good you are at the beginning of anything you try is not a good indicator of how good you can become. I’m a prime example of someone who was able to overcome a lack of aptitude with practice, persistence and the drive to never ever give up.”

Kelly spoke about his family’s experiences during his wife’s recovery after she was shot in Tucson, Ariz. Giffords suffered a bullet wound to the head and had to undergo several surgeries as well as months of physical therapy before being able to return to Washington, Kelly said. He said his wife’s dedication to her recovery was an enormous inspiration.

“It’s been an incredible experience for me over the last four months to see the power of the human spirit — to see someone who was first able to fight so hard to survive, and then to fight so hard to recover.” Kelly said. “She reminds me each and every day to deny the acceptance of failure.”

Kelly’s experiences with overcoming difficulty in his own career as well as facing adversity during Giffords’ recovery made him a perfect candidate to reach out to students, said Michael Morton, chair of the Student Endowed Centennial Lectureship.

“He’s a great example of leadership in America today and he’s a name that people recognize,” Morton said. “He can really speak to various levels of leadership and how to deal with different issues in your life.”

Students are more than capable of having the drive and energy necessary to becoming effective decision-makers and leaders with enough time and patience, Kelly said.

“I think that it’s possible to learn [how to be a leader],” he said, “There’s a whole field of study about decision-making and about leadership, so it takes time and it takes practice.”

Kelly’s lecture was an inspiration to those in attendance and proved that failing the first time doesn’t mean they should stop trying, said aerospace engineering freshman Madison Lasris.

“He really proved that you can overcome any obstacle, no matter how bad it is,” Lasris said. “Even if you fail, you can still achieve what you want to do.”

Printed on Tuesday, April 3, 2012 as: Astronaut gives inspiration