Hart reflected on his time at Lehigh in the 1960s, when McDonald’s was a novelty in the community, the government had started mandating seatbelts, the “Hill” was rocking with bands from the tri-state area playing the sounds of the day and musicians such as Simon and Garfunkel came to campus.
He also reflected on the tragic events of the decade, which saw the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, and protests across the country over the Vietnam War. “Yet in time we recovered and we healed as a nation,” he said. Among the triumphs, he noted: 12 astronauts landed on the Moon and came back to Earth safely.
“We do move forward, albeit in fits and starts sometimes,” he said, “and I think your generation is poised right now to move us forward in entirely new ways. … You will have your challenges for sure, furthering social justice, combating hunger and poverty and controlling global climate change to name just three, but you will rise to the occasion, I’m sure of it.”
Hart said people often ask him what he found most exciting about his years at NASA, expecting that he’ll tell them about what it’s like riding a rocket into space, the feeling of weightlessness or the view out the window from the Earth orbit.
“Actually, most often I tell them about the amazing job that NASA does in training the astronauts and the mission controllers to work together as a team,” he said. “If you’ve watched the Apollo 13 movie, you saw just how critical that teamwork was in bringing the crew home safely after their oxygen tank had ruptured.” As NASA’s finest moment, he said, the mission demonstrated what a highly motivated, well-trained team can accomplish.
Being part of that team as it prepared to launch the Space Shuttle program was the most exciting time of his career, Hart said.
He told the graduates, “Throughout your careers, you will have many opportunities to be a member of a team focused on accomplishing something very new and challenging.” With the world becoming more complex, it has become apparent that diverse, multidisciplinary teams will be needed to solve the most complicated of problems, he said.
He pointed to Lehigh’s many interdisciplinary centers, which he said are designed to tackle the most complex problems facing the environment, health care, education and other fields, and to the engineers, scientists, economists, psychologists and others who contribute to their mission.
"Teamwork is a beautiful thing,” he told the graduates. “So now it’s your turn to go out there and make the world a better place.”
Hart was introduced by one of his former students, Andrew J. Abraham ’11G ‘14G, who is now engineering manager, Mission Analysis and Operations Department, The Aerospace Corporation. When it came to education, he said, Hart was always willing “to fly the extra mile.”
At the closing, Lauren M. Manduke ’05, former president of the Lehigh University Alumni Association, welcomed the graduates into the alumni association. “I continue to be amazed by the strength, perseverance and determination of the Lehigh graduate,” she said. “The Classes of 2020 and 2021 will go down in Lehigh’s history for so many reasons. And you should all be so very proud of what you have been able to achieve despite all of the hurdles thrown at you over the past year.”
Following the virtual kickoff, a combined in-person Commencement ceremony was held Friday afternoon at the Murray H. Goodman Stadium for members of both the Class of 2021 and Class of 2020 who were awarded master’s degrees and doctoral degrees. A hooding ceremony for doctoral candidates also was jointly held.
Celebrating the Class of 2020