CORVALLIS, Ore. - Former senator and astronaut John H. Glenn, whose pioneering space flight in 1962 literally launched a new era in space exploration - and who returned to space in 1998 after four terms in the U.S. Senate - has agreed to give the commencement address this June at Oregon State University.
It is the first time in several years that OSU has had a commencement speaker, according to university officials.
OSU President Ed Ray, who served as executive vice president and provost at The Ohio State University, knows Sen. Glenn and extended the invitation to him. The John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy was established at Ohio State in 1998.
"The senator is a wonderful, inspiring speaker who can captivate an audience," Ray said. "He is a warm and caring individual and I am so happy that our graduates will have the opportunity to meet someone who is a genuine American hero and a worthy role model for young people today.
"He has a set of life experiences that few people, if any, can match," Ray added, "yet he is as genuinely unassuming as anyone you will meet."
Oregon State's commencement - its 135th - will be held in two ceremonies on Sunday, June 13, both at Reser Stadium. Glenn will speak at the ceremony for undergraduates, which begins at 2 p.m. A separate ceremony will be held for graduate students and those receiving professor honors at 9 a.m.
In 1962, Glenn piloted NASA's tiny Mercury-Atlas 6 "Friendship 7" spacecraft on the first manned orbital mission of the United States. Launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, he completed a successful three-orbit mission around the Earth, landing about five hours later.
"I remember vividly when that happened," Ray said. "Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, that achievement was a defining moment in American history."
Glenn again made headlines in 1998, when, at the age of 77, he became the oldest astronaut in history. After training diligently and easily passing a battery of physical and mental tests, Glenn went on a nine-day mission aboard the STS-95 Discovery and took part in a study of the effects of zero-gravity on the body. While in space, the Discovery orbited the earth 134 times, covering 3.6 million miles.
A native Ohioan, Glenn was elected U.S. Senator in his home state in 1974, and became one of the nation's most influential senators until his retirement in 1998.
Before joining the space program, Glenn served in the Marine Corps and flew 59 combat missions during World War II, and another 63 missions in Korea. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on six different occasions.
This will be OSU's first formal commencement speaker since the late 1980s, according to Curt Pederson, the university's interim vice president for advancement. The change is part of OSU's efforts to make commencement "an even more memorable experience for our students," he said.
In 2000, the university separated commencement into two ceremonies because of the increasing size of the graduating classes. Even then, the undergraduate ceremony alone packed Gill Coliseum. So in 2001, the university moved the ceremony outside to Reser Stadium. More information on OSU's commencement is available online at: http://oregonstate.edu/events/commencement/.