Former astronaut honored with Thayer Award

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Dr. Mae Jemison speaking at West Point

WEST POINT – Former NASA astronaut, engineer, social scientist and Peace Corps Medical Officer Dr. Mae Jemison became the 63rd recipient of the Sylvanus Thayer Award at West Point on Thursday evening.

Jemison was the first African American woman to embark on a space mission when she was selected in September 1992 to make an eight-day journey on the shuttle orbiter Endeavor as the mission’s science specialist, overseeing 44 different experiments while onboard.

Jemison is also the leader of 100 Year Starship, an organization that aims to facilitate human space travel to another star system within 100 years. She was a professor at Dartmouth College until 2002 where she directed the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries.

Jemison used her time during her acceptance speech to address the current state of the world with regards to COVID-19 and reflect on the future of West Point’s Corps of Cadets.

Like the Thayer Award, which is given to individuals who represent duty, honor and country, these tenets also make up the motto of the academy.

Jemison said the cadets have a unique opportunity to create the new normal, the place the world goes back to as the pandemic slows. With all of the challenges birthed by COVID she said it is their duty to make sure they take advantage of that opportunity and exercise leadership in the face of it when it comes to aspects of society like how much value do we put on our essential workers, how can the hospital infrastructure be strengthened and how do we collectively handle disasters.

“This is for real for real. This is the world we’re in. Things are changing,” said Jemison. “Your task, again, is to be able to move things forward. How do you do that? Understand that the actions of the past have created the world that we live in today and you have the opportunity to create the world of tomorrow by your actions today,” she said.

After thanking the Association of Graduates for the honor to receive the award, she closed with a callback to the beginning of her speech by telling cadets there are 86,400 seconds in a day and although each one of those seconds represents infinite possibilities, their duration is finite. She urged them to take advantage of their time, remain focused and acknowledge that each moment is an opportunity to make a decision with purpose.