Hopkins to speak at UI commencement
Astronaut Mike Hopkins will give the keynote address at the 2014 University of Illinois commencement next month.
Hopkins, a 1991 UI engineering graduate and former co-captain of the Illini football team, just returned from six months aboard the International Space Station.
He will speak at the campuswide commencement scheduled for 9:30 a.m. May 17 at Memorial Stadium. The ceremony was moved there this spring because of the renovation underway at the State Farm Center.
“I’m as nervous as I was going out on that first spacewalk,” Hopkins said in a UI release. “I’m still getting comfortable with speaking in front of a large group of people – and there’s still a little bit of disbelief that they would consider me.”
He said the location is particularly poignant for him as a former football walk-on.
“I started out on the practice squad and worked my way up,” he said. “I learned to never give up – one more lick, one more day – and I was willing to stick with it. It was very similar to becoming an astronaut.”
The NASA flight engineer blasted into space on Sept. 25 with two Russian cosmonauts and logged more than 70.4 million miles aboard the station, orbiting the Earth 2,656 times.
Hopkins kept in touch with his alma mater while in space, hooking up for a live interview with aerospace engineering students via satellite in October and filming promotional spots for UI athletics and the Big Ten Network. He also tweeted dozens of photos from the space station, including a shot of Champaign-Urbana.
Hopkins earned his bachelor's degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the UI.
He chose the university for its highly rated engineering school but also decided to walk on to the football team in 1988. He won a scholarship, became a starter and was team co-captain as a senior, playing defensive back and going to four bowl games.
He has credited his former undergraduate adviser, Professor John Prussing, and former Illini Coach Lou Tepper with guiding him through the UI.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here, just having returned from space, without the University of Illinois,” he said.
“The total experience at Illinois – both the educational and the social side – really made me feel like a member of a larger team,” he said of his undergraduate experience, “and being a part of the team is a big part of what we do at NASA.”
Hopkins was born in Lebanon, Mo., and grew up on a farm in nearby Richland. He decided to become an astronaut in high school, during the early days of the space shuttle program. He was already interested in engineering, as his father was a former Marine pilot and his uncle flew for the Air Force. Watching the early shuttle missions "helped kindle that fire in me for space exploration," he said in a NASA interview.
He completed a master's degree in engineering from Stanford University and then began working on space systems technologies at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.
He later became a flight test engineer at Edwards Air Force Base and in 2002 won a scholarship to study political science in Italy. He then went to work at the Pentagon, eventually becoming a special assistant to the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
He was selected for the astronaut corps in 2009, on his fourth try, and last fall became the first member of his class to fly into space.
The crew conducted more than 200 experiments aboard the station, including one studying bone loss in space. Hopkins continued his "Train Like an Astronaut" fitness program, exercising 2-1/2 hours a day to counteract bone and muscle loss in microgravity. He also went on two spacewalks to fix a broken cooling line.
The torch for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, was also brought on board the space station temporarily by two Russian cosmonauts who arrived in February.
Past commencement speakers at University of Illinois
2013: Shahid Khan, president of Flex-N-Gate and owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars
2012: Cokie Roberts, political commentator for ABC News (morning ceremony): Orion Samuelson, broadcaster and host of U.S. Farm Report (afternoon ceremony)
2011: White House Chief of Staff William Daley, brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley
2010: Tim Shriver, chairman and chief executive officer of Special Olympics International, founded by his mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver
2009: Suze Orman, financial adviser, author, motivational speaker and TV host (morning ceremony); Carl Schramm, economist and president and CEO of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (afternoon ceremony).
2008: Mannie Jackson, chairman and owner of the Harlem Globetrotters
2007: Jawed Karim, computer scientist and co-founder of YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim
2006: Thomas Siebel, entrepreneur/founder of Siebel Systems who funded UI Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science.
2005: Bill Geist: Emmy-award winning commentator for CBS
2004: Lani Guinier, civil rights attorney, author and law professor, Harvard Law School 2003: Barry Bearak, New York Times Magazine journalist and 2002 Pulitzer Prize winner
2002: Maya Angelou, author, educator, civil rights activist and National Medal of Arts recipient
2001: Stanley O. Ikenberry, president, American Council on Education and UI president emeritus.
2000: Paul Simon, former U.S. senator
1999: Richard Kaplan, president, CNN/USAS
1998: Robert D. Novak, newspaper columnist and TV commentator
1997: Diane Sawyer, news correspondent and co-anchor of ABC's 'Prime Time Live' news magazine
1996: George M. C. Fisher, chairman, president and CEO of Eastman Kodak Company
1995: Ikenberry (John Chancellor, broadcast journalist, was scheduled speaker)
1994: Hillary Rodham Clinton, first lady of the United States
1993: Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president, Children's Defense Fund
1992: Steven R. Nagel, astronaut
1991: Oscar Arias Sanchez, former president of Costa Rica and 1987 Nobel Peace Prize recipient
1990: Carl Sagan, David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Science, director of Laboratory for Planetary Studies, Cornell University
1989: Richard Salant, former president, CBS News
1988: George F. Will, columnist and political commentator
1987: Arnold O. Beckman, founder and chairman, Beckman Instruments
1986: Frank H. T. Rhodes, president, Cornell University
1985: Thomas A. Murphy, former chairman of the board and CEO, General Motors Corp.
1984: John E. Cribbet, chancellor, Urbana campus.
1976-1983: No speaker.
1975: Lyle H. Lanier, executive vice president and provost, emeritus director, Office of Administrative Affairs and Educational Statistics, American Council on Education.
1974: Robert Bingham Downs, dean, library administration and professor emeritus of library science.
1973: Warren B. Cheston, chancellor, University of Illinois at Chicago Circle.
1971: David Dodds Henry, UI president.
1970: Allen S. Weller, dean, UI College of Fine and Applied Arts.
1969: Richard B. Ogilvie, governor of Illinois.
1968: William L. Everitt, dean, UI College of Engineering.
1967: David E. Lilienthal, chairman and chief executive of Development and Resources Corp. and former chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.
1966: The Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, president, University of Notre Dame.
1965: Leland John Haworth, director of the National Science Foundation and former UI professor of physics.
1964: W. Albert Noyes Jr., Ashbel Smith Professor of Chemistry, University of Texas.
1963: Henry T. Heald, president and trustee of the Ford Foundation.
1962: Otto Kerner, governor of Illinois.
1961: Lawrence A. Kimpton, general manager of planning, Standard Oil Co.
1960: James R. Killian Jr., chairman of the board, MIT.
1959: Arthur S. Fleming, secretary, U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
1958: Thomas W. Baldwin, UI professor of English.
1957: Henning Larsen, UI vice president and provost.
1956: Robert D. Calkins, president, Brookings Institute.
1955: Russell J. Humbert, president, DePauw University.
1954: Bishop H. Clifford Northcott.
1953: Allan Nevins, professor of history, Columbia University.
1952: Harlan H. Hatcher, president, University of Michigan.
1951: Raymond Walters, president, University of Cincinnati.
1950: Adlai E. Stevenson, governor of Illinois.
1949: Herold C. Hunt, professor and first chair of Administrative Careers Program, Harvard; former Chicago schools superintendent, undersecretary of U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
Source: University of Illinois, News-Gazette archives