A few days ago, the world marked the 61st anniversary of the first human being to enter space. On Wednesday, April 12, 1961, a Russian Cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, left the Earth in a rocket ship and traveled into space.
When you combine his journey with the Soviet Union’s launch of the Sputnik Satellite in 1957, the United States was in a precarious position, and leaders at the time were forced to address the challenges at hand. These two events appeared to give Russia the edge and ultimately launched the space race.
Things were changing quickly. So, what did we do? Did we say, “Well, I guess we can just sit on the porch and look at the stars and the Russian satellites and spaceships"?
President John F. Kennedy had been in office for only five months. The Soviet Union was regularly issuing military threats that extended as close as Cuba and as far away as outer space.
The “Space Race” was on. In stark terms, Kennedy challenged a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, to take steps to “…win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny."
Kennedy told Congress, “…this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to humankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space.”
He went on to ask for $148 million to fund rover nuclear rockets, accelerate the use of satellites in communications, and create satellites for worldwide weather observation.
Although it is not the space race, the Class of 2022 has faced, and is facing, very real challenges. This cohort of students has felt the impact of the reductions in state revenue. As Oklahoma’s economy struggled, our students and their families were forced to pay a larger share of the real costs of education.
COVID-19 significantly interrupted the full college experience in the spring, summer and fall semesters of 2020. Distance learning, social distancing, pandemic testing, vaccinations, loss of jobs, loss of childcare, sickness, deaths of loved ones, and the uncertainty of what was ahead took their toll on our institution and students.
Those who will walk across the stage on May 6, 7, or 9, during one of Northeastern State University’s Commencement Ceremonies, will leave us and step into a world shocked by images coming from Ukraine, struggling with 40-year high inflation and recovering from COVID-19. These are hard things for our graduates to overcome, but overcome they must.
Why choose to do something “because it is hard”? Didn’t President Kennedy know the moon was 238,900 miles away? Didn’t the president know the journey would require a rocket the length of a football field and be made of metal alloys that had not yet been invented? Actually, he did know, but he pressed on.
I believe the Class of 2022 will overcome these present challenges and those that will undoubtedly come in the years ahead. Why? Because they have been tried and tested, yet they have persevered. They will get good jobs in an economy that is ready to welcome them. They will be good citizens and make lasting and positive contributions to the communities where they choose to call home. They are about to embark on a great adventure filled with hope, joy and incredible opportunities.
NSU Class of 2022, you gathered here; now go far.
Steve Turner is the president of Northeastern State University.