sealPurdue News

December 15, 1996

Astronaut sends message to new Purdue graduates

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University graduates heard two congratulatory messages, including one that was out of this world, during commencement ceremonies today (Sunday, 12/15).

John Blaha, an American astronaut on the Russian space station Mir, sent a message from the station to the new graduates, including his daughter, Carolyn.

"As one of almost two dozen Purdue alumni who have flown in space, I wanted to offer today's graduating class and their families my congratulations," Blaha said. "Thirty-one years ago, I received my Purdue diploma. But today's ceremony is a special one to me for another reason. My daughter Carolyn is one of the graduates in the School of Science.

"Carolyn, I wish I could be with you today. I'm very proud of you. Especially the very nice human being you have become.

"To the graduating class, your Purdue education is going to be one of the most valuable things you and your classmates will ever possess. I promise you all the hard work you have done at Purdue and all the sacrifice will be worth it. To everyone in this year's class, congratulations, happy holidays and Hail Purdue."

Blaha is not scheduled to return to earth until January, but will be able to see his daughter's graduation before then, Purdue President Steven C. Beering said. University officials are working to have a video of the ceremony sent to Mir.

"It is a proud moment to be at a university like ours where a message like that is possible, not only because more than twenty American astronauts have been graduated from Purdue, but because this is an institution at which people care about one another as a family," Beering said.

Beering noted that a Purdue education helps prepare its graduates not only for careers, but also for society. "I wish you success in life, as well as in your work," he said. "We live in a world that often seems to be turning its back on the values that were once fundamental and undeniable. We see the glorification of greed in the entertainment and sports industries. Our political leaders seem to be more interested in popularity polls than in governance, and the electorate and that's you and me doesn't seem to care very deeply. This year, with significant decisions to be made at every level of government up through the Office of the President, fewer than half of eligible American voters went to the polls, thus forsaking the greatest privilege and the most sacred responsibility that we as Americans enjoy: The right and the obligation to govern ourselves.

"Social scientists and the news media have struggled to explain this seeming indifference, but perhaps it is nothing more than a misplaced complacency. In this century which is widely known by contemporary historians as the American century perhaps we are so confident in our strength as a nation and in our innate goodness as a people that we believe nothing can threaten our way of life. In our complacency then, we don't feel the need to stand up against injustice, to speak out against dishonesty, to protect our heritage of liberty and self governance.

"And yet you, as the best and brightest of our new leaders, have a sacred obligation to do those very things. The intelligence with which you have been blessed, the wonderful education which has helped you refine that blessing and the debt to future generations which you inherit from those who struggled to create this legacy for you these demand that you approach your future not just with the well-honed skills but with a fully developed sense of integrity.

"Integrity demands something more than the mere absence of dishonesty. It demands more than just doing a passable job. It demands more than that you do no harm. The eighteenth-century English philosopher Edmund Burke said that 'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.'

"So your integrity will be measured not by the absence of guilt but by the presence of strength, of courage, of honesty, of self-discipline. Will you speak out when you see injustice? Will you defend the weak when they are abused by the stronger? Will you do more than is socially required to support your community? Will you do what is right, even when it is not always comfortable?

"Perhaps those questions sound a bit preachy and old-fashioned in this era of high-profile marketing and self-fulfilling morality, but the true happiness you achieve in the rest of your lifetimes will be determined by the answers you give to these questions."

About 2,600 students were eligible to receive degrees during two commencement ceremonies today in Elliott Hall of Music.


Sources: Steven C. Beering, (765) 494-9708
John Blaha

Writer: J. Michael Willis, (765) 494-0371; home, (317) 379-2904; e-mail,

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