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Deputy administrator for NASA and trailblazing astronaut to speak at Northeastern’s 2024 undergraduate commencement at Fenway Park

Pam Melroy piloted shuttle missions to the International Space Station in 2000 and 2002. In 2007, she joined Eileen Collins as the only women to serve as a shuttle commander. On May 5, she will speak at commencement.

Pam Melroy floating in the docking compartment of a space shuttle.
Space Shuttle Discovery commander Pam Melroy floats in the orbiter docking compartment between the shuttle and the International Space Station in 2007. Photo by NASA

Pam Melroy is a trailblazing astronaut who traveled to space three times, and is one of only two women to command a shuttle mission. Today, she serves as the deputy administrator for NASA.

On Sunday, May 5, Melroy will take the stage at Fenway Park in Boston to address students at Northeastern University’s 2024 undergraduate commencement ceremony.

Melroy says she is looking forward to speaking to one of the most talented and diverse communities of students in the university’s history.

“Northeastern University’s graduating class represents the vanguard of a transformative era, where the boundaries of knowledge are constantly expanding and the possibilities for innovation are limitless,” Melroy says. “As these emerging leaders and innovators embark on their next chapter, it’s an incredible privilege to celebrate their achievements.”

Pam Melroy wearing a NASA jacket and red shirt smiling.
As deputy administrator, Pam Melroy is responsible for laying out NASA’s vision and communicating that to the president, Congress and other government agencies. Photo by NASA

A native of Palo Alto, California, Melroy logged more than 38 days in space while piloting two shuttle flights in 2000 and 2002. In 2007, she joined Eileen Collins as the only women to serve as a shuttle commander. She is a retired U.S. Air Force combat pilot and officer.

“Exploration in the pursuit of knowledge must not be bound by gravity,” said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern. “Pam Melroy has been a force that harnessed the advances in science and the boundless canvas of space to reach extraordinary frontiers. We are grateful for her leadership and military service, and excited to welcome her to the Northeastern family.”

The ceremony, which will be livestreamed, will take place at 4 p.m. at historic Fenway Park, located a short distance from Northeastern’s Boston campus. Each year, nearly 30,000 students, families and friends gather at the event to celebrate the culmination of achievements and experiences in the classroom and around the world. As part of the university’s renowned experiential learning programs, Northeastern students work, study and conduct research in 149 countries and on every continent.

“They are poised to build on their experiential learning to chart new frontiers across every discipline, and new ones they will create,” Melroy says. “Learning from the past, they will propel humanity toward a future of unprecedented advancements.”

Melroy’s career has been built around propelling humanity toward a better future.

Growing up in the 1960s, little girls were not encouraged to play with toy airplanes, she says. So she used to line her dolls up, hold them by their necks and fly them around like airplanes.

She was first inspired to become an astronaut after watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon in 1969.

“It inspired me, and a generation of astronauts and engineers,” Melroy said after being sworn in as NASA’s deputy administrator in 2021. “I always dreamed of flying up into the clouds.”

All three of Melroy’s shuttle missions were made to service the International Space Station. The 2007 mission included a daring and dangerous emergency spacewalk to repair a damaged solar array on the station.

The 2007 mission also included a historic handshake when Melroy greeted Peggy Whitson, the commander aboard the space station. It marked the first time a female commander on the space station met a visiting female shuttle commander.

The moment was one Melroy set her sights on when she was first commissioned in the Air Force through the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program in 1983. As a pilot, instructor pilot and test pilot, she logged more than 6,000 flight hours in more than 50 different aircraft before retiring from the Air Force in 2007.

Melroy flew over 200 combat and combat support hours during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. She was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in December 1994.

As deputy administrator, Melroy is responsible for laying out NASA’s vision and communicating that to the president, Congress and other government agencies.

Melroy previously served in leadership roles at Lockheed Martin, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. She was also an adviser to the Australian Space Agency and was a member of the National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group.

The graduating class at this year’s commencement ceremony hails from 118 countries. They will have earned degrees across multiple disciplines, including computer science, engineering, health and social sciences. Many of them have pursued combined majors that blend different disciplines seamlessly, such as philosophy and data science, or business and music. Upon graduation, they will join a global network of more than 300,000 alumni who live and work in 181 countries.

Commencement ceremonies will be held across Northeastern’s global network of campuses, the law school, Ph.D. graduates and College of Professional Studies, in addition to celebrations by each of the university’s colleges. See the full schedule for those events.

The procession for the undergraduate ceremony will begin about 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 5.

David Nordman is executive editor of Northeastern Global News. Meghan Donovan and Mark Conti contributed to this story.