In an imperfect society, an individual can only strive for a respectable image so his own contribution is a net positive, Neil A. Armstrong told Weber State College graduates Friday evening.
Armstrong, better known to Americans for his role as astronaut than for his academic background, encouraged the students to never lose the joy of wonder and the enthusiasm that had brought them to graduation."I wish I had your future," said Armstrong who drew the plaudits of the entire world when he became the first man to set foot on the moon in 1969. He addressed more than 2,000 graduates, the largest number ever to receive diplomas at WSC.
WSC President Stephen Nadauld said Friday's commencement initiates a year of observing the college's 100th anniversary. The first Weber Academy class graduated in June 1889, just five months after the institution opened. A variety of activities during the coming year will mark the century milestone.
Armstrong received an honorary doctor of humanities degree from Nadauld, who said it was fitting to have an astronaut representing the space age as a guest initiating the second 100 years of the Ogden school.
Also receiving honorary doctor of humanities degrees were Walter R. Buss, a longtime WSC professor; William J. Critchlow III, a businessman and philanthropist; Jack D. Lampros, a civic worker and supporter of education and arts; and Mary Wilcox Miller, widow of William P. Miller, former WSC president.
In his remarks to the graduates, Armstrong displayed a sense of humor. In introducing Armstrong, Nadauld recounted the fact that Armstrong overrode the automatic control in the lunar module, manually guiding the vehicle away from an area covered with boulders. The maneuver prevented possible damage to the module and was accomplished even though the module was nearly out of fuel.
"Even when your tank reaches zero, you still have a gallon left," Armstrong quipped.
Armstrong said that when Weber Academy was established, no one could have envisioned the extent to which science has now advanced. He congratulated WSC for having put the first student-constructed satellite into orbit.
Despite the progress of technology, he said no plateau has been reached and surprising advances in the sciences will continue. Even more challenging, Armstrong said, is the quest for understanding of the human mind and improvement of human character.
Despite wars around the world, Armstrong said, "we're making some progress. We know we must learn to live together."
His advice to students was to find work that they enjoy, to develop patience with others and to make a positive contribution to society.
The astronaut, who is now a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati, told the graduates not to be overly concerned if they are not yet certain where they are going professionally. "As an undergraduate, I couldn't see any possibility of having a paid job in space technology."
New developments and interest often lure people away from their original plans, he said. Armstrong cautioned against a cavalier attitude, but suggested the graduates leave their minds open as to their futures.
He said Copernicus, who established much of the science on which today's space technology rests, first trained to be a priest. The Polish scientist who lived five centuries ago studied languages and practiced medicine as he developed his theories of space and the relationship of planets to the sun.
Armstrong said it is the search for truth that binds humanity together. It is an elusive search and definitions of truth have changed through time, he said.
"We are not altogether noble in our pursuit of truth," Armstrong said. "We favor that position that supports our biases."
Julia Christmas, Layton, spoke in behalf of the Class of '88. She said although the class has achieved the end of one long road, it is still incumbent on class members to continue learning.
Education in the United States is under fire, she said, but "critics have been around since education was formalized. They serve a useful purpose. They make us look at ourselves."
Christmas said WSC has offered its students a balance between the esoterics of education and practical preparation for work.