1st mom in space shares advice during commencement speech

Dr. Anna Lee Fisher delivered the UCLA College centennial commencement address earlier this month.

Fisher became the first mother in space in 1984 as a member of NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery flight on mission STS-51A. Her daughter, Kristin, was 14-months-old at the time.

She also earned three degrees while studying at UCLA — a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, a Master of Science degree in chemistry and her medical degree.

During Fisher’s speech, she spoke about her remarkable career and the sacrifices she made during her time working for NASA.

“It was an amazing flight with wonderful crewmates and I also incidentally … became the first mom to fly in space,” she said during the address about her historic 1984 mission. “I didn’t consider that a big deal as most of my male colleagues had children as well — but of course my daughter says I owe it all to her.”

One thing that she remembers most about her time at UCLA? The lack of gender diversity in her science classes.

“I was almost always the only one or one of two or three females in math chemistry and physics classes,” she shared. “I was not only accepted but mentored and encouraged by my mostly male professors at that time. That was in the late 60s and early 70s.”

Fisher continued breaking these glass ceilings outside of the classroom upon graduation. She made a tremendous impact at NASA, taking on the role of chief of the Astronaut Office’s Space Station for a time along with other positions, before retiring in 2017.

During her speech, Dr. Fisher shared what she described as “a checklist reminder for life,” explaining that in the “astronaut world” they have checklists for everything.

Here are the inspiring life lessons and tips for navigating life’s hurdles that she shared:

1. “Be who you want to be and live the life you want to live”

Fisher spoke about being grateful that she pursued her dream to work for NASA over choosing a career that would’ve offered her more stability or assured success.

She also said she is thankful she took time off for her children. “I had the courage to follow my heart and take a leave of absence to stay home with my girls while they were young,” she told the audience. “I have never regretted taking that time.”

“You have to decide what is best for you not what you think you are expected to do or what others think you should do … you have to follow your inner voice,” she added.

2. “Find that which you are passionate about and your life will be rich and rewarding”

She explained that it’s important to pursue your passions at all costs.

3. “Life is not fair. It’s just not”

She said that her world travels have shown her that all people are not dealt the same cards. She does believe that those in the United States are more fortunate than many though — because of the concept of freedom and opportunities available in the country.

Fisher also added that on an individual level, “Some people are just born smarter more beautiful wealthier — that is just the way the world is.”

“You have to deal with the hand you were dealt,” she added. “You can either choose to go for the life you want despite the hardships you face, or you can use the hand you’re dealt as an excuse. But it is your choice.”

4. “Failure is an option, and all of you, as I have, will encounter failure or disappointment sometimes throughout your life”

“All of you, as I have, will encounter failure or disappointment sometimes throughout your life,” she told the graduates. “It is how you respond that matters.”

She reminded the students that, “you often learn more from your failures than your successes,” and directed them to, “use that knowledge to create success.”

5. “Always have a backup plan”

“A corollary to having a backup plan is to always be prepared, whether for a test, a new job, becoming a parent — whatever big things in life you need to succeed at,” she said.

6. “Don’t give up — be persistent if you really want something”

She reminded the students that, “sometimes you have to change your goals somewhat,” but emphasized the importance of following your dreams.

7. “Enjoy the journey. Do not be so focused on the destination or that future goal that you miss all the simple pleasures of life”

“The only sure thing in life is death and taxes, so they say,” Fisher added.

8. “Change — life is full of changes”

“Be adaptable and flexible because you will need to be,” she told the crowd.

9. “Do not be afraid to take risks when you are older and have a family or other obligations”

She reminded the graduates that with the mounting responsibilities that come with age, the less easy it gets to take risks. Now is the time.

10. “Should you find yourself on the wrong path or just one that doesn’t fit — do not be afraid to change directions”

“You only get one life so be sure it is the life you want,” she said.

11. “Thank your parents and all those who help you throughout your life”

“We and you do not succeed alone,” she said.

12. “Don’t be afraid of growing old”

Fisher shared that one should embrace aging and everything that comes with it. “I never expected to have so much fun or be doing so many different things as I turn 70 later this year,” she explained.

13. “We are all astronauts on the spaceship earth … let’s all take care of our ship and each other just as space shuttle and space station crews do”

She hopes that many others will get the opportunity to travel to space — and with that, more people would realize “that we are all more alike than we are different.”

14. “Be kind to one another. Respect other people’s views even if they are very different than your own”

She reminded students to be, “kind and respectful to one another,” despite differing opinions.

“All views should be listened to and debated not censored,” she said. “In the end, despite political differences cultural differences socioeconomic differences, we are all human beings with the same feelings, fears, desires and challenges.”

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