Astronaut, alumnus named Commencement speaker

NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, Expedition 37/38 flight engineer, awaits the start of a spacewalk training session in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Hopkins is wearing a training version of his Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit.

By Daily Illini Staff Report

Astronaut and alumnus Michael Hopkins will be the speaker at this year’s Commencement, the University announced Tuesday. 

Hopkins graduated from the University in 1991 with a degree in aerospace engineering. While at the University, Hopkins played football, serving as a defensive back and team captain his senior year. 

The former Illini went on to earn a master’s degree from Stanford University and graduated from NASA’s astronaut training plan in 2011 after 12 years of applying, according to Hopkins’ NASA biography. 

Hopkins, born in Lebanon, Mo., left for trip to the International Space Station in September, along with two Russian astronauts, Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy. During his trip, he orbited the Earth 2,500 times and participated in two spacewalks. 

Not long after returning in March, Hopkins agreed to be the speaker, campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said. 

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    “He called us back a couple of days after he was back on Earth,” Kaler said. “He was still feeling the effects of 1G when got back. He felt very heavy.” 

    The process to find a graduation speaker for the May 17 address began in the fall.

    “We always like to find one of our accomplished alumni to address the students because we feel they probably know better than anybody else how those students are feeling at that moment and would have a really nice message,” Kaler said. 

    Earlier this year, the University submitted the application to NASA requesting him to speak and waited for him to confirm that he was willing to participate. 

    “We’re delighted,” Kaler said. “With the Commencement being one ceremony on the football field, outside, and with Colonel Hopkins being a former captain of the Illinois football team, and someone whose office is the sky above, it seemed like a really appropriate thing.”  

    The 9:30 a.m. ceremony will take place at Memorial Stadium, due to the ongoing renovations at State Farm Center.    

    A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Michael Hopkins orbited the Earth 25,000 times. He orbited the Earth 2,500 times. A previous version of this article also stated that the ceremony begins at 9 a.m.. Commencement begins at 9:30 a.m. The Daily Illini regrets the errors.