Find your moonshot

NASA Administrator and longtime U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a leading advocate for space exploration, addressed two commencement ceremonies Saturday in the O’Connell Center. Here are his remarks as delivered for the ceremony for master’s and bachelor’s graduates.

President Sasse – or, as I know him, Senator and my friend...
Members of the Board of Trustees...
Faculty and staff...
Family members and loved ones...
Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this day.
This is your day.
It’s sweet because you’re crossing the finish line today.
And we gather at time of incredible possibility, but also -- as the president said -- immense uncertainty.
This graduating class – you've now lived through two once-in-a-lifetime economic downturns.
Your college experience was disrupted by a global pandemic.
And some of you lost loved ones to the cruelty of Covid. And they would be so proud of you today.
The world – it's changing, it’s challenging, and it is strikingly divided.
And I feel that sometimes you feel unsettled.
So I'm going to talk today about moonshots. I believe that the uncertainty that has pervaded can be replaced with a spirit of renewal.
There are two reasons that I have confidence and faith in renewal.
One is: because I believe in you!
And two: I believe in moonshots!
I have the honor of serving a storied organization that makes history and makes the impossible possible.
Just look, there's a telescope out there -- a million miles -- called the James Webb Space Telescope
It is looking back. At NASA, we know a thing or two about moonshots.
Because we're going back to the moon after a half-century
We're going back to live, to learn, to experiment
on the lunar surface in order to be able to go further.
To go to Mars and beyond. And it's going to be not long from now, that members of your generation will be the first humans to walk on Mars.
We're expanding now what President Kennedy had as a vision in 1961.
Sixty-two years ago, this young, idealistic president, went to Rice Stadium in Houston and appealed to America’s enduring spirit of adventure.
He challenged our country to unite behind a bold endeavor, once thought impossible.
He made America believe in moonshots.
And today, moonshots are not confined to the cosmos.
Moonshots are imagined, developed, and achieved here on Earth in our hearts and minds by folks like you.
One example, the president and the First Lady launched a cancer moonshot.
And that goal is simple, but the task is hard: to end cancer as we know it.
But class of 23, the task before you is to identify your own moonshot.
President Kennedy knew that his moonshot would be hard, not easy. He made that clear.
In that speech at Rice Stadium, he said, “We choose to go to the moon,  not because it's easy, but because it's hard.”
Kennedy didn’t have all the answers when he dared America to go to the moon, but he had the courage to dream.
So... you don’t need all of the answers on your graduation day.
What you need today is to have confidence and trust in what you decide is your moonshot.
Confidence that you will do what is hard and trust that you can achieve what is great.
Confidence and trust that you will be a part of something larger than any one person.
So, what's your moonshot?
Astronauts are often asked what it takes to be selected to fly in space.
And the answer is to become an expert in something that makes you passionate.
That answer isn’t just for astronauts.
The answer is for you.
Your passion can define you.
Your passion can help you find your moonshot.  
And for those of you going into teaching,  
a good bit of the audience here today, and if you're a teacher, I believe you do the Lord's work. 
How will you give the next generation the tools to make the seemingly impossible possible?
How will you use the lessons of the past to inspire change in the leaders of tomorrow?
So these are just some of your challenges – your moonshots. 
People may doubt you, but history has never been kind to the skeptics and the naysayers.
Your future, our future, will be shaped by your courage, your moonshot.
This is a moment, as Tennyson says, “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
There are echoes of Tom Petty there.
This is a moment for your moonshot. 
Congratulations, Go Gators!
God bless you.

UF News December 16, 2023