Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Laurel was born in Iowa, but will always consider Racine, Wisconsin her hometown. Initiated into her sorority at the University of Wisconsin – Madison in February 1981, she received a bachelor’s of science degree in zoology in 1983. In her time at Madison, she was a member of Humorology, a comedy review that raised money for disadvantaged children. Laurel’s friends would state that “she was a vibrant spirit in our college days. She lit up the room with her never-ending smile and enthusiastic personality.” Laurel would later go on to receive her doctorate of medicine in 1987.

On the other hand, Rick grew up his entire life around the area of Amarillo, Texas and ended up attending Texas Tech University as a mechanical engineering student. He was actively involved in his fraternity; actively participating in leadership and community service while pursuing his educational degree. He would go on to graduate from Texas Tech University in 1980 with his bachelor of science and would complete his master of science at California State University in 1990. His friends and family would state that “Rick is the kind of person who could engage in a conversation about anything and with anyone – his spirit is contagious.”

Two lives – lives that were born out of simplicity. On the street, they would look no different than you and I. They followed the journey of their life like so many of us are doing today. They graduated from high school, went to college, graduated, led a successful career and were parents and spouses. Laurel enjoyed scuba diving, hiking, camping, biking and traveling, while singing, water and snow skiing, cycling and spending time with his family were Rick’s interests. Ordinary persons with ordinary interests.

It is what occurred throughout their ordinary life, that which they nurtured and advanced in their early days of college and beyond that I think is most important and that I would like to share with you.

Both Rick and Laurel were labeled by friends and colleagues as “passionate” – they loved what they did in their lives – in their careers, their academics, their interests and their family. It was this pursuit of their passions – in their ordinary lives – that propelled Laurel into a career of medicine and Rick into a career of engineering.

It was this pursuit for their passions that eventually led both of them to become members of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration. It was also this pursuit of their passions that forever intertwined their lives together. Laurel Clark would be selected as a mission specialist on STS-107, a 16-day space shuttle flight that was a dedicated science and research mission. Rick Husband would be selected as the crew commander of that same space shuttle flight.

Rick and Laurel, and five additional crew members, worked 24 hours a day, in two alternating shifts, on this mission and conducted approximately 80 experiments – a successful mission by all standards. But the STS-107 mission ended abruptly on February 1, 2003 when Space Shuttle Columbia and her crew perished during entry over the southern United States, 16 minutes before their scheduled landing.

I share with you this journey of two seemingly simple and ordinary lives – not to focus on the catastrophe of Laurel’s and Rick’s perish, but on the glory of their pursuit... and leave you with three simple thoughts, sparked by the lives of Laurel Blair Salton Clark and Richard Douglas Husband. And these thoughts are intertwined in this phrase: the passion for the pursuit of the possibilities.


If there is one identifying characteristic of a successful scholar and person it is passion; the pursuit of those elements of life that make you passionate. Seek out those interests and hobbies that fill you with life – those interests that you could spend hours researching and talking about with friends and colleagues. It is this passion that will propel you beyond the ordinary search for a degree and gainful employment and have you living a life of service and scholarship with and for others.

You have been given a profound gift of passion – don’t lay it to waste. Be the very best at whatever you set your mind and heart on.

Your passion for the pursuit of the possibilities


One of the greatest thrills and terrors of our life is when we realize that the possibilities for our life are endless. We live in a world where the only thing stopping us from fulfilling our dreams is that thing between our ears and that thing beating in our chest. When you realize and embrace those aspects of your life for which you are passionate, you will see the possibilities unfold before you.

In that spirit, never ever settle for average or ordinary or simple. You have been given the gift of possibilities; so let your present and future education lead you to those seemingly impossible and glorious possibilities. No matter how outrageous they may seem – even to the flight deck of a mighty Space Shuttle.

Your passion for the pursuit of the possibilities


Between our passion and our possibilities, lies the most important element of all. It is our pursuit, our struggle, and our journey between those elements that make us passionate and all those possibilities out there that is most important.

There is a quote by Ursula Le Guin that wonderfully states,

It is good to have an end to journey toward;
But it is the journey that matters, in the end.

The day before her tragic death on the Space Shuttle Columbia, Laurel Clark emailed her family and friends from the flight deck. In that email she wrote, “I feel blessed to be here, representing our country and carrying out the research of scientists everywhere.” Truly the passion for the pursuit of the possibilities.

Like so many others before you – including Laurel and Rick - let nothing stop you in your pursuit for the possibilities of your life, because it is the journey that matters, in the end.

In the days ahead:

  • Be thankful for those elements and persons that make you passionate about Life;
  • Be vigilant in your search for the possibilities that lie right in front of you and in the distant future and chase them down;
  • Take a moment to enjoy this present pursuit you call your life. Learn from it and share that learning with others.

On this day, I applaud you, a scholar with the passion for the pursuit of all your possibilities.

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