Kelly: In tough times, 'think about my wife, Gabby'

Gabrielle Giffords
Jason Koski/University Photography
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords delivers her remarks at the 2015 Senior Convocation.
Kelly, giffords and gerber
Jason Koski/University Photography
Senior Convocation Chair Rachel Gerber '15, right, presents the Convocation Medallion to Capt. Mark Kelly and former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
convocation choir
Jason Koski/University Photography
The Cornell University Glee Club and Chorus perform during Senior Convocation, May 23.

As they offered congratulations and advice to Cornell’s graduating seniors, Capt. Mark Kelly and his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Az.), asked the Class of 2015 to focus on courage, determination, service and second chances.

Giffords, M.R.P. ’96, retired from Arizona’s 8th district after surviving an assassination attempt in 2011. She and Kelly, a retired astronaut and U.S. Navy captain, delivered the Senior Convocation address May 23.

Still recovering from her injuries, Giffords, greeted by a standing ovation, spoke briefly, with Kelly carrying the majority of the remarks. He shared the story of his wife’s bravery, resilience and continuing public service.

“Gabby and I hope and pray that your lives after Cornell will be free of tragedy. But know this – the road ahead will bring you some unpredictable moments. And at times it will challenge you beyond what you ever imagined. So prepare yourself for tough times the best you can. And in those tough moments, I want you to think about my wife, Gabby,” Kelly said.

An “adventurer” who’d spent time in Mexico as a Fulbright Scholar and braved two winters in Ithaca as a Cornell student, Giffords returned to her home state, where she served in the Arizona Senate and House of Representatives before being elected to Congress.

In January 2011, while Giffords was meeting with constituents outside a grocery store, she was shot along with 18 others. During her recovery, Giffords’ “braver moments happened when nobody was there to see them,” Kelly said.

Grieving those lost in the shooting while coming to terms with her new limitations, Giffords had to relearn how to walk, speak and eat, and do everything with her left hand. She “upped the ante” with her bravery: seven months after her injury, Giffords, still a member of Congress, traveled to Washington to cast a vote on the controversial debt ceiling.

With her second chance at life, Kelly said, Giffords has continued serving others, even after she retired from Congress in 2012: she has offered support at domestic violence shelters, testified before Congress and spoken out against bitter partisanship.

Both Kelly and Giffords know that no success can come without the contribution of others, and Kelly urged the Class of 2015 to “take a chance to serve, to help others succeed.”

“You can sign a petition. You can write a letter. You can make a donation. You can tutor another student. You can vote … You just need to do whatever you can to make life in your community, and on this planet, a little bit better."

Kelly also used examples from his life to encourage the graduates. A Navy pilot who flew 39 combat missions during the first Gulf War, Kelly said that back in flight school, he was not a good pilot; after his first ship landing, a superior asked Kelly if he was sure he’d picked the right career.

“I really believe that how good you are at the beginning of anything you try is not a good indicator of how good you can become,” Kelly said.

He continued, “Some of you might have struggled in organic chemistry, but you could get into med school, and you could become a world-class surgeon, like the surgeon who saved Gabby’s life. You may have gotten a real beatdown in macroeconomics, but you could become the economist who helps change the policies that will rebuild our middle class.”

When Giffords took the lectern, her husband explained why she was in a wheelchair: A few weeks ago, she suffered a broken leg while training for a Tucson bike race; she rode 11 miles in the same race last November. Giffords was an avid cyclist before her injury.

Waving to the crowd, Giffords thanked Cornell for the invitation. She said: “Graduates, your future shines bright. Find your purpose and go for it. Starting tomorrow, you can help change the world. The nation is counting on you to create, to lead, to innovate. But today, we celebrate you. Be bold, be courageous, be your best. Go Big Red!”

Also during Convocation, Senior Class Campaign co-chairs Syed M.Q. Ali Khan and Morgan Miller announced a gift of more than $36,000 from the Class of 2015 to Cornell.

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Melissa Osgood