KSC Director Bob Cabana's Commencement Address

May 15, 2014 - Former astronaut and Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana spoke at the noon graduation ceremony for Eastern Florida State College, telling the grads to live life with passion, never give up and reach for the highest goals. Below is the full transcript of his speech.

It’s truly an honor for me to be here today to share in your accomplishment along with your friends and families. I know how proud they are of you, and how happy you must be to have achieved a major goal in your life’s journey.

Commencement:  the word signifies a new beginning, a chance to go out into the world and truly be on your own. But it is also an end, an end to that first goal that many of you have set your sights on, a college degree. It’s a time of transition that affords you an opportunity to take stock of what and who you are, where you are going with your life, and how you’re going to get there.

I’d like to take a few moments to share some thoughts with you about dreams, goals, persistence and passion.

What is your dream?  Have you considered where you want to be five, ten, twenty years down the road, and how you’re going to get there?

As a small boy growing up in Minnesota, I never dreamed that one day I would be NASA’s Chief Astronaut; or that I would be afforded the opportunity to actually build a space station, or that I would have the opportunity to lead the Kennedy Space Center on a course that will one day take us to Mars. But I always wanted to fly, and to explore. My dreams were fueled by the accomplishments of the early aviators, and by the test pilots and astronauts who, during the 1960’s and 1970’s, were leading the way beyond the bounds of our home planet.

When I was five years old, my mother and I traveled to see her sister in Baltimore, Maryland.

While we were there, I made my first trip to our nation’s capital, and had the opportunity to visit the Smithsonian Museum. It was long before the Air and Space Museum was built, but I can still remember it as if it was yesterday. The vision of the Wright Flyer and Spirit of St. Louis hanging from the ceiling are firmly imprinted in my memory. It was my inspiration. As a boy I read voraciously about the heroes and aces of World War II and Korea, and of the test pilots setting new records in sleeker and ever-faster jets. To fly was my goal, my dream, my passion.

Goals are important

If you want to do something, set a goal for yourself and do it! Keep working toward it and don’t give up until you achieve it. And when you attain that goal, then set a new one and continue on. And remember, nothing worth doing comes easy.

Becoming a pilot was my goal, and it wasn’t an easy path to get there, however flying is my passion and I never gave up. After I graduated from the Naval Academy and got to Pensacola for flight training, I failed my eye test and was crushed. But I was qualified to be a Naval Flight Officer, and worked at being the best A-6 Bombardier/Navigator I could be. Still, I never gave up on my goal to be a pilot, and as I always passed my annual flight physicals with 20/20 vision, I applied for and was accepted for pilot training. After earning my wings as a Naval Aviator, my next goal was to be a test pilot. But once again, I didn’t achieve it on the first try. In 1984, while a test pilot at Patuxent River, NASA took applications for the third class of Shuttle astronauts, and I applied. I made it to the final interview, but wasn’t selected. For me, it was major disappointment again. Then in 1985, after going through the whole process again, I was fortunate enough to be selected in the 11th astronaut class.

Now, having looked down on the earth from 200 miles high, I thank the Lord for the abilities and the opportunities he has given me, and the perseverance to reach my goals.

The point I’m trying to make here, is to have a goal and do your very best to attain it. There will be disappointments along the way, but if you keep your passion and continue to persist, they will only serve to make the accomplishment that much sweeter.

Goals are important, but your character is also important, and is an asset in helping you reach your goals.

Your word means something

Your word is something no one can take from you. It means a lot. When you say you’re going to do something, then do it. Do it because you said you would, because you gave your word. When you tell someone something, don’t lie. Lies can come easy. They may seem like the easy way out at times, but they’re not. They are eventually found out and they detract from your character. Honor and integrity seem to be on the decline today, but how much brighter you will shine above all the others if you hold them tight. Your word means something, uphold it, don’t let it lose its worth and become common.

Do your best

I’d like to talk a little bit about excellence. Let me assure you, excellence doesn’t necessarily come from brilliance, or a gifted intelligence. It comes from persistence and hard work, which we all are capable of. We are all going to be held accountable for the talents we’ve been given, don’t waste them. Always do your best. That’s all anyone can ask of you, and only you know in your heart when you’ve given it. Don’t short-change yourself by giving anything less.

The importance of passion

My passion was to fly. I’ve been blessed to be able to do the things I’ve done, and have the opportunity to view this magnificent planet we live on from the vantage of space. As beautiful as all the pictures are from space, they cannot do it justice. Our Earth is a shining blue jewel in the blackness of space. It did not seem real as I watched it pass beneath me on orbit. It was hard to believe that I was actually there. I was overcome by the majesty of our planet, and surprised by how thin a blanket the atmosphere is, covering our Earth and protecting us from the harsh, black, void of space. It is a singular experience, well worth the many hours of hard work and preparation.

Now, as Director of the Kennedy Space Center, my passion is the transformation of KSC into the multi-user spaceport of the future, which will enable the next generation of explorers to put boots on Mars, as we establish a human presence in our solar system. I can tell you with great pride that we are well on our way to making that vision a reality. As we once saw Apollo capsules leave KSC on their way to the Moon, we will soon see Orion vehicles depart on their way to asteroids and Mars. This is not a dream: Orion will fly on a test flight later this year, the first step in a planned series of steps that will take us to Mars in the 2030’s.

We are a nation of explorers, and space exploration has inspired and challenged us to greater heights ever since Alan Shepard rocketed skyward in his small Mercury capsule back in May of 1961.

We’ve come a long way since those early Mercury flights, but we still have a long way to go. It’s our destiny to once again explore beyond the confines of low Earth orbit, and our continued perseverance, fueled by our passion, will help us achieve this goal.

So what can you learn from my personal story, and the achievements of our nation’s space program? Your dreams for the future: that’s what life is all about. Embrace them with passion, and be persistent in their pursuit.

Who’s to say what the next 100 years of human space flight will bring? We are only limited by our imagination and our desire and resolve to accomplish the goals we set for ourselves. The space program challenges and motivates us. It binds us together and causes us to reach a little higher. It’s human destiny to explore, to learn and to reach beyond our known world. This is what the space program does for us. It expands our horizons, it makes life a little better for everyone on Earth and it prepares us to cope with the unknowns that the future holds for us.

Right now, the International Space Station that I laid the foundation for 16 years ago, orbits overhead with a crew of 6 international astronauts working together as one. It’s an amazing engineering achievement, and a model for future exploration beyond planet Earth. It truly is the “Brightest New Star on the Horizon.”

So on those clear, early mornings and evenings, when you look up at the stars and watch it pass overhead, I hope that it serves as an inspiration for you. An inspiration to learn… to explore… to surpass your own dreams. And surpass them you will, if you hold tight your integrity, persevere in your goals, and always work to the best of your abilities, pursuing life with passion.

I wish you all the very best.