Janet Kavandi
Dr. Janet Kavandi

Congratulations to the Class of 2021! It is my honor and privilege to be here today to celebrate your achievements. This is my first visit to the Prescott campus, and I am glad that you have been so fortunate to have studied at this distinguished institution in such a beautiful location.

While some speakers might tend to reminisce over the past, I would instead like to look forward today. Space has always been “my thing.” Therefore, I’d like to relate my comments today to my future vision of where the human race may be by the time you have made all the great accomplishments of your respective careers.

As I now work on how the world will travel to and live in space someday, this is how I expect your contributions will have helped us to reach the next level of our existence both on this planet and above.  I am going way out on a limb here to predict the amazing accomplishments this class will produce, and time will tell how good my crystal ball was.  I won’t be able to cover every area of expertise represented here in the room today, but I hope to give you a flavor of what is to come.

  1. The Earth. As you well know, the several generations who preceded you have not done a great job of protecting our land, water, and atmosphere. I predict that at least six of you will someday report on the remarkable progress you have made in reversing the effects of climate change. Some of you will report on new ways you have discovered to capture carbon and remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere. Others will demonstrate the resurgence of coral reefs and increased fish populations. Still others will have designed more efficient renewable energy methods that have allowed the air to be cleaner and safer for all. You will have made the earth a better place to live. 

  2. Manufacturing. I believe that 22 of you will find new and innovative uses for layering technologies. You will make new computers, security systems, engines, cars, homes — even organs. We can actually print human tissue today! One of you will have even helped ensure the successful transplant of the first 3D-printed human heart. In the future, no one will have to die before a patient can receive an organ. You will have made the earth a better place to live.

     

  3. Aeronautical Engineering. A very cool nine of you will help develop the first point-to-point hypersonic commercial aircraft that allows passengers to travel halfway around the world in less than an hour. This technology will allow both people and equipment to be transferred to needed locations faster than ever before. You will have made the earth a better place to live.

     

  4. Aviation. A no-brainer for this institution! Thirty-five of you will either fly commercial aircraft or contribute to the operations of such aircraft (both subsonic and supersonic.) New separation technologies will improve to provide more safety as the skies become more and more congested, thereby minimizing the chance of human error. In fact, some air transportation will have evolved to require no pilots at all — perhaps scary too think about, but that time is coming — much to the disappointment of my husband, who is an airline pilot. But you will have made the earth a better place to live.

     

  5. The Armed Forces. Twenty-eight of you will serve your country in one of the branches of the military, the Department of Defense, or other national security agency that helps to defend and protect our country, both on and above the surface.You absolutely will have made the earth a better and safer place to live.

     

  6. And Space – My favorite! I predict that 14 of you will someday live in and work in space — not as traditional astronauts but as regular citizens. Your job will be in Low Earth Orbit, either in research or engineering, entertainment or hospitality. Every morning, you will float out of your sleeping bag, get a workout on your treadmill, take a space “shower” (really just a sponge bath,) make a breakfast of rehydrated scrambled eggs, grits and coffee, and then float over to your laboratory to start your workday. Whether you are advancing the growth of new vegetable species in space, genetically engineering a new cancer-fighting drug, printing that 3-D heart that will be transplanted into a needy recipient, or documenting the advancement of the recovering ice sheets, your workday will be filled with wonder and satisfaction. And you will have made the earth a better place to live.

This all sounds rather “science fiction,” but we are on the verge of making this happen. I was born in the year that Sputnik first flew to space. That was the very first satellite that was launched to space by the Russians, and it truly frightened all Americans. That, of course, put the whole “Space Race” into motion but eventually resulted in my personal ambition of flying in space. My wish now, in the final years of my career, is to enable you to actually be that generation that lives and works in space as one of your “normal” job options. Instead of commuting to Phoenix, you would commute to a space station about 200 miles up.

I don’t remember who gave the talk at my college graduation, and much less the subject. I am sure it was motivational and inspiring. But that is not why I went on to do the things I did. I was motivated to do those things because I wanted to do them. The motivation was from within. I was inspired by instructors, family, friends, mentors, even movies.  You all have something within you that drives you — that makes you proud of who you are and of what you want to become. Of how you want to contribute to the world and make it a better place. Use that energy to set your goals, and then really work towards achieving them. 

So, even though I said I would not reminisce, forgive me the following. When I was in college, I had very little money. I had to finish school before my scholarship and social security ran out at the age of 22. I earned a bachelor’s degree in three years and a master’s degree in another 18 months. I graduated and got a job one month before my 22nd birthday.  During those long semesters with heavy loads of calculus, physics, differential equations, organic chemistry, computer programming, etc., I would look above my desk, where I had taped a photo of an astronaut floating above the earth and had printed the words, “Never Give Up.”

I did not, and neither should you. 

I wish the very best to you all in reaching your goals in life. And I will be watching your careers unfold and look forward to hearing the stories from those of you who will live and work on and above our planet — to make the earth a better place to live.

Thank you — and again, congratulations to the great Class of 2021!