Astronaut, Rice alumna Peggy Whitson '86 to be undergraduate commencement speaker

Dear students, faculty and staff,

I’m excited to announce that America’s most experienced astronaut, our alumna Peggy Whitson ’86, will be the speaker at the 111th Undergraduate Commencement of Rice University May 4.

Whitson’s background, career path, accomplishments and work in space exploration are truly impressive and trailblazing. Throughout her 37-year career, Whitson has flown on three NASA long-duration space flights and Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2), accumulating 675 days in space, more than any other American astronaut or female astronaut in the world.

Peggy Whitson ’86
Peggy Whitson ’86

Whitson is currently serving as director of human spaceflight for Houston-based Axiom Space. Over the past almost four decades, she has held various remarkable leadership positions, often being the first woman to do so, including NASA’s chief of the Astronaut Office, twice as commander of the International Space Station, chair of NASA’s Astronaut Selection Board, NASA’s Operations Branch chief and NASA deputy division chief for both the Medical Sciences Division and the Astronaut Office, and as commander of Ax-2, a private space mission in May 2023.

During her three previous space missions to the International Space Station (Expeditions 5, 16, 50/51/52), she conducted 10 spacewalks, logging over 60 hours in space. Throughout her career she has contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.

Whitson received degrees in biology and chemistry from lowa Wesleyan and a doctoral degree in biochemistry from Rice. She has been honored with numerous awards, including NASA medals in Leadership, Outstanding Leadership and Exceptional Service; TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World (2018); and Women in Aviation Lifetime Achievement Award (2017).

Whitson grew up on a farm outside the town of Beaconsfield, Iowa, with her siblings and parents, who were farmers. She decided to become an astronaut after she watched the first moon landing on television as a child in 1969.

Paula and I are looking forward to hosting Peggy and to welcoming her back to Rice. Her message to our graduates will undoubtedly be inspiring.

For additional information about this year’s commencement, please click here.

Warmly, and best wishes for the spring,

President Reginald DesRoches

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Allen Center, Suite 440
6100 Main Street
Houston, TX 77005

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Office of the President–MS 1
Rice University
P.O. Box 1892
Houston, TX 77251-1892

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