NASA administrator Bill Nelson tells UCF graduates: ‘Find your moonshot.’

Bill Nelson
The former Senator offered inspirational words Saturday.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson challenged the University of Central Florida’s class of 2024 to chase after lofty, ambitious goals and find their “moonshots.”

“You know how to aim for the moon because this is America’s Space University. There’s no moonshot beyond your reach,” Nelson said at Addition Financial Arena. 

Nelson, a former Democratic U.S. Senator, gave the keynote speech during UCF commencement ceremonies Saturday.

His speech went off smoothly at a time when many universities have pro-Palestine protests disrupting campus activities. UCF is expected to award about 9,800 degrees during the weekend graduation festivities, including nearly 3,000 in STEM fields.

Nelson urged the graduating seniors to have the confidence and trust to pursue their big dreams and keep going when it’s hard as they pursue something “larger than any one person.”

He compared the students’ quest to NASA’s work.

“Space is challenging. Space is humbling. Space is hard. It requires us to dare to fail,” said Nelson who orbited the Earth in the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986. “Your moonshot will be made of setbacks and small steps.”

In a state where lawmakers fought against diversity initiatives at Florida’s universities, Nelson encouraged the graduating seniors to “learn from people who think differently from you.”

“At NASA, we can understand the universe and our Earth only if we see it from every perspective,” Nelson said. “When you have the privilege that I’ve had of looking back at Earth from the window of a spacecraft, it overwhelms and changes you. You see a magnificent and colorful Earth where the spectacle of life can bloom. You see also that our earth is not only precious, but it’s fragile. .. You can actually see with the naked eye from space how we’re messing it up.”

UCF maintains strong ties with NASA ever since the Orlando school was founded in 1963 to serve as a pipeline for the space industry only about 30 miles away.

Today, nearly 30% of Kennedy Space Center employees are UCF alumni, according to the school. Many of those UCF alumni are part of the space researchers working in NASA’s Artemis program to prepare for human missions to Mars and sustainable human presence on the moon.

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .


  • Hung Wiil

    May 5, 2024 at 12:45 pm

    If Nelson encourages the graduates to consider those who think differently than they do, he is advocating for the students to listen to DeSantis and Trump. Interesting.

  • simpingainteasy

    May 6, 2024 at 1:17 am

    The truth about Nelson being in Musk’s pocket is deleted but the off topic pump of DeSantis and Trump is up. It’s amazing how much people simp for the abhorrent frauds of the world. Truly the world’s oldest profession

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