Honorary degree speech from the Chief Technologist at NASA


By the authority of the Senate, I admit you
to the degree of Doctor of Sciences, honoris causa. Congratulations. Good morning and congratulations to all of
our graduates this morning. I am deeply humbled and grateful to be recognised
with this honour from this great institution and to be associated with the great traditions
of the University of Warwick. I have the incredible privilege of helping
to lead humanity’s most exciting quest: our voyage of space exploration. For 60 years we at NASA have been driven to
answer the most popular and profound human questions: How did the universe originate? How did we get here? And are we alone? Incredibly, we are the first generation in
human history that now have the tools, technology and the knowledge to begin to answer these
questions. Our first 60 years of space exploration missions
have yielded an unbroken line of scientific discovery, developing technologies that improve
the quality of life on earth, and serve as a beacon of inspiration to young explorers
the world over. I’d like to take a minute to share with
you how my own personal journey was influenced by NASA. As Professor Heracleous mentioned, I grew
up in a rural village in the hills of Jamaica. During my childhood I witnessed economic hardship,
political violence, and numerous challenges that many in the developing world still face. Our typical days were spent in a one-room
school house listening to the instruction of our teacher, Mrs. Iris Simpson, who sat
regally at the front of the room, flanked by the Jamaican flag on one side and, of course,
over the other shoulder a dated picture of the royal family. Despite her best efforts, for most of us,
there was very little to be optimistic about. But that changed; one event in the summer
of 1969, when I was 8 years old, completely transformed my life. On July 16th of that year, the massive Saturn
V launched from Cape Canaveral lifting the Apollo spacecraft and its three brave astronauts
on an impossible voyage to the Moon. This event captivated the world’s attention,
and it even interrupted our daily routine in our class room in Jamaica. Mrs. Simpson had the presence of mind to read
to us each day from the newspaper, the “Daily Gleaner”, the transcripts of the communication
between the spacecraft and the mission control center in Houston. We were at once transported from our limited
reality to a world of boundless possibilities and, as Loizos mentioned, I found myself on
my way in front of a black and white television on July 20 1969, when Neil Armstrong first
set foot on the Moon. In that instant, I knew with absolute certainty
what my life’s work would be. And here I stand today. I am profoundly grateful to Mrs. Simpson. We at NASA believe the next 60 years will
be even more exciting and will produce an unprecedented, exponential explosion of technology
that will bring unbounded economic opportunity. To turn this weird vision into reality we
must transform an organisation that was founded on a technical excellence into a collaborative,
innovative culture that leverages academia, public/ private partnerships, and international
partnerships. This requires new business models, new organisational
strategies, and a new workforce culture. Fortunately, we who are experts in technologies
have found thought leaders in other disciplines that have become invaluable partners in helping
us to shape that future. Second to none is the partnership we have
developed with the University of Warwick and Prof. Loizos Heracleous in particular. This partnership has proved to be of tremendous
value to me personally, as I work to transform our organisation and extend our leadership
into the 21st century, and I sincerely thank you. Finally, I wish to thank the most important
inspiration in my life: My family – my daughters Rachelle and Danielle; my son Christian and
wife April who are here today. Christian is the same age today, as I was
when I was watched the Apollo mission. I am motivated each day by the knowledge that
our work together can create a legacy that will motivate his generation and generations
to come. I’ll close with a few humble words of advice
for our graduates. If I can make it from a small village in Jamaica
to become a leader in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, anything is possible! First, find your personal passion [clapping]. So, to our graduates, find your personal passion,
find your Apollo, and pursue it relentlessly! In Spaceflight we have a term: “signal to
noise”. We work very hard to filter out the immense
background noise to focus on the delicate signals carrying precious information across
the vastness of space. In your life and career, filter out the noise,
focus on the signal, and let your signal be an inspiration to others. The future looks incredibly bright – and
it is yours to create. Ad astra! Thank you very much.


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