News

At Commencement, an Astronaut’s Thoughts on Isolation

Across the country, college seniors have been forced to stay at home and finish their college years without participating in a traditional rite of passage: commencement. But for Ursinus seniors, their virtual commencement experience included words from someone quite familiar with the term “isolation.”

Astronaut Christina Koch, who set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman with a total of 328 days in space, was the surprise guest “speaker” on Ursinus’s commencement webpage on Friday, May 15.

“I can relate to dealing with confinement,” Koch said in a prerecorded video message. “One question I’ve gotten a lot recently is, ‘What can an astronaut teach us about uncertain times? About isolation?’ For me, the answer to that is all about reframing. It’s not about the things you aren’t able to have in the moment, but about the unique silver linings you may never experience again.”

Koch goes on to tie the challenges students are facing today to the impact they will have in the world tomorrow. “As you head into those next professional phases of your lives, you’ll have the added advantage of learning new techniques to focus on can and not can’t; to not stop at problems, but to show up with solutions,” she said. “…As astronauts do in unexpected situations, you all will rely on your training and apply it in new ways. You will search it for lessons and theories that can be extrapolated to the unexpected.”

Koch also acknowledged Ursinus’s unique Quest core curriculum, which is based on four open questions (What should matter to me? How should we live together? How can we understand the world? What will I do?), as “stunningly appropriate” during this time of uncertainty.

She closed her remarks by acknowledging the unique circumstances faced by the global Class of 2020. “Congratulations to the class that made history before its careers have even began; to the class that is united with other graduates across the world who share a unique perspective.”

Ursinus’s online commencement program illustrates the strong sense of community in this graduating class. The page includes hundreds of photos and personal reflections that tell the story of the Class of 2020, as well as a “virtual gauntlet” that presents well wishes from some 80 faculty and staff, replicating one of the college’s unique traditions.

View Koch’s full remarks at ursinus.edu/commencement. –By Ed Moorhouse