Vancouver Island University staff and students are lead by piper Wade Calder

Astronaut tells Nanaimo university students to think globally

NANAIMO – Retired astronaut and physician Dr. Robert Thirsk among honoured guests at recent Vancouver Island University convocations.

Vancouver Island University held its 2013 Winter Convocation at the Port Theatre last week when hundreds of students in the arts, sciences, business management, technologies and trades received their diplomas.

Guest speakers at the ceremonies held Thursday and Friday included Lt.-Gov. of B.C. Judith Guichon, Bruce Williams, CTV Vancouver Island’s manager of community and client relations and host of I Love this Island, who was presented with an outstanding service awaDr. Robert Thirskrd, and Dr. Robert Thirsk, retired Canadian astronaut and physician who was presented with an honorary Doctorate of Laws at Friday’s ceremony.

Thirsk attended Friday’s event with his mother Eva and Bill Helin, artist, designer and jeweler, who designed the uniform patches for Thirsk’s space missions.

Thirsk was born in Coquitlam and grew up in Powell River. He retired from the Canadian Space Agency in 2012 to join the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in Ottawa to become vice-president of public, government and instate affairs and oversees 13 health institutes dedicated to health care issues, including aging and cancer.

“My new job, I’m involved in community engagement,” Thirsk said. “We’re trying to get the community involved in health research, which is what I do right now and VIU does the very same as well.”

Thirsk’s address to the graduates focused on the idea that all humankind is interconnected with one another and their environment.

He used analogies from ISS Expedition 20/21 when he spent 188 days aboard the International Space Station in 2009 to encourage new graduates to focus on their jobs, but not lose sight of what their role is globally as it relates to everything from human social issues to the ways every person living on this planet places demands on the global environment.

“We’re all one ecosystem,” Thirsk said. “The world is one spaceship we need to protect as fragile. We’re alone in the solar system. One aspect of the Earth’s ecosystem depends on every other. When the Amazon rainforest is burned down it affects the entire planet. It doesn’t just affect people in Brazil.”

He also advised students to keep reading, writing, travelling, to stay in touch with their teachers and to pause every so often to figure out where they are “situated in the big picture.”

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