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STANFORD -- Dr. Mae Jemison, a 1977 graduate of Stanford who became the first black woman astronaut, will be the featured speaker at Stanford's 105th commencement on Sunday, June 16, President Gerhard Casper has announced.
Jemison now lives and works in Houston, where she founded the Jemison Group Inc., to research, develop and implement advanced technologies, especially in the developing world. She has not yet decided on a specific topic for her address.
"But I want to talk about something that is important to the graduates, such as considering the issues you have to face as an adult, in making the transition from one role to another," Jemison said.
This is critical, she said, "particularly at a time when the world is in great flux, and there does not seem to be much to anchor on to in terms of developing your ideas and philosophies."
Jemison said the invitation to speak at commencement was unexpected.
"I'm very excited about it," she said. "It's a great honor and privilege, and sort of scary. It makes me stop and look back at my life, and all of the things that have happened since I left Stanford."
Jemison was selected by Casper from a list of possible commencement speakers submitted by this year's senior class presidents. Senior Sarah Cranston, one of the four presidents, said Jemison was their unanimous first choice.
"Jemison is young still, and yet look at everything she has accomplished," said Cranston, a senior in international relations from Newton, Kan. "She's just incredible. The things that she has done since graduating from Stanford in 1977 are the kinds of things Stanford students in general aspire to do with their lives."
Cranston also said the four students selected Jemison in part on her reputation as a moving and inspiring speaker. Jemison is the host and a technical consultant to the "World of Wonder" series, seen weekly on the Discovery Channel.
"We wanted her because she will give a speech that people will remember, that will send people away from here thinking they can conquer the world," Cranston said. "We want them to feel the way people felt after Stephen Carter spoke [in 1994]."
Jemison blasted into orbit aboard the space shuttle Endeavour on Sept. 12, 1992, the first woman of color to go into space. She was science mission specialist on a U.S.-Japan joint mission, and conducted experiments in life sciences and materials sciences. She also was co-investigator for a bone cell research project.
Since 1993, after she resigned from NASA, she has led the Jemison Group Inc. The group's current projects include Alafiya, a satellite-based telecommunication system to improve health care in West Africa, and The Earth We Share, an international science camp for students ages 12 to 16 that utilizes an experimental curriculum.
Her work with the Jemison Group led Dartmouth College to invite her in 1993 to its Hanover campus, where she taught a course on space-age technology and developing countries. Jemison currently is a member of the Dartmouth faculty in the Environmental Studies Program and is director of the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries at Dartmouth.
Jemison entered Stanford at 16 and graduated with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering and in African and Afro-American studies. She earned her medical degree from Cornell in 1981.
Prior to joining NASA in 1987, she worked as a general practitioner in Los Angeles and spent two-and-one-half years as a Peace Corps medical officer in West Africa.
Jemison, who was born in Decatur, Ala., and raised in Chicago, says teachers tried to talk her out of a science career when she was young and even after she had earned her medical degree. She was honored in 1992 by the establishment of the Mae C. Jemison Academy, an alternative public school in Detroit, that encourages such academic careers for women and minorities.
About 4,000 graduates and 30,000 guests typically attend Stanford's annual commencement ceremony, which also will feature remarks by President Casper and presentation of awards for outstanding teaching and service.
Stanford commencement speakers in recent years all have combined public distinction with ties to the university as a student or faculty member. They have included Secretary of Defense William Perry (B.S. '49, M.S. '50) in 1995; Yale law professor and author Stephen Carter (A.B. '76) in 1994; U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (A.B. '55) in 1993; modern art authority Kirk Varnedoe (A.B. '70, Ph.D. '72) in 1992; and Haas Centennial Professor of Public Service John Gardner (A.B. '35, A.M. '36) in 1991.
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