Don’t be afraid to stumble, Tyson tells graduates

Published 9:00 am Friday, May 19, 2023

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By Connor Thompson

The Farmville Herald 

Fifty-four years ago, Neil deGrasse Tyson was in Pamplin with his parents, visiting family. The day was a historic one, as this was July 20, 1969. It was the date Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. But as nine-year-old Tyson watched the moon walk, he also noticed some things happening around him in the home. For one, people were using kerosene to treat skin bruises.

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Don’t be afraid

“I didn’t know much at age nine, but I knew that couldn’t possibly be a good thing,” Tyson said. Speaking to a packed house at Hampden-Sydney College’s graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 13, Tyson said that simple situation, seeing one group try dangerous home remedies while another was on television, expanding the reach of science, taught him a lot. 

“It was an early realization that not everyone knows science in this world, not everyone has been touched by it, not everyone understands its role and value,” Tyson said. “It was a memory that I did not shake.” 

Don’t be afraid

It helped him realize, Tyson said, that we as people and individuals should never stop learning, never stop pushing to discover new technologies, new ways of doing things. Just because someone did it one way in the past, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to try something different. In fact, it’s practically necessary. 

Without those attempts at discovery, even the failed ones, we would still be stuck at 22 known elements, instead of the current 118. Without discovery, we wouldn’t know anything about oxygen and nitrogen, about planets or medical advances. 

Don’t be afraid

“Keep learning, keep growing,” Tyson challenged the soon-to-be graduates. “Growing isn’t knowing everything in advance. Growing is stumbling. The day you stop making mistakes is the day you can be sure you’re no longer on the frontier.” 

Instead of the easy exit, Tyson challenged the students to take the harder one, adding that it’ll pay off in the end. 

“Now you’ll have abilities, knowledge and insight that everyone wants (if you keep learning),” Tyson said. “As long as you continue to grow, you will achieve more.” 

Don’t be afraid