SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell has led the aerospace company since it was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk. Shotwell graduated as a mechanical engineer from Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering in 1986. Shotwell has worked at SpaceX for 19 years and became one of the most successful women in the world. On June 14th, Shotwell delivered Northwestern University's Class Of 2021 commencement address during which she gave graduates advice and shared some of the career accomplishments she is most proud of. She also discussed a variety of topics, including a summary about how her career life initiated, the economic and racial injustice highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic, also about how the U.S. education system needs improvement. You can watch Shotwell’s Northwestern University Class of 2021 commencement speech in the 12-minute video linked below.
“I am a mother, a wife, a mechanical engineer, and nerd. We aren't all nerds, but I'm proud to be one. I'm a longtime SpaceX employee and leader, an active listener, a rancher, of course a wildcat, and an aspiring winemaker,” Shotwell said, “I love my country, even though it is flawed and I'm committed to helping resolve its social injustices. And I am desperate to be a grandmother, but my children aren't cooperating in my vision, at least yet,” she said with a smile. Ms. Shotwell delivered the commencement address in a video filmed at a SpaceX facility. The university graduates watched the video during their graduation ceremony.
“For the last nearly 19 years I have worked for one of, if not the, finest physicist and engineer, Elon Musk. He gave me the opportunity to help him grow SpaceX from 10 people to nearly 10,000 people, and from zero revenue to billions annually,” she said, “I have helped bring the commercial launch business back to this country, along with the tens of thousands of jobs that come with it. The one accomplishment that we have that I am most proud of is helping to get our country flying astronauts again on American-made rockets and spaceships.” SpaceX returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States, NASA had not launched astronauts from American soil since the Space Shuttle fleet was grounded in 2011. –“We are now positioned to fly astronauts from all over the world on our Dragon spaceship and later this year we will fly the first all-civilian mission, where regular everyday people will travel to space on a multi-day journey around Earth. And this is just the beginning,” Shotwell added. The Inspiration4 mission will launch civilians in September this year.
“I hope that I have helped create a path that allows humans to live on Earth, the moon or Mars, whichever their choice. I hope for a future where people can live even further out, amongst other star systems and galaxies,” Shotwell told the graduates, “I often joke about wanting to meet other people and see otherworldly fashion. I know I won't see that in my lifetime, but I hope that my work serves as a foundation or a small beginning to achieve that.”
Shotwell also gave some advice that helped her achieve success throughout life. “Set and try to achieve absolutely absurd goals, and don't be afraid of failing, if you can't achieve them. Work hard, really hard, and be helpful. Be kind, but at minimum, be respectful,” she said. “Don't be afraid to admit that if you fail, you were wrong and take a different path – or better yet, don't even consider trying something and not getting the outcome that you want as failure. Consider it growth.”
She also discussed the importance of being kind. “Being kind, but at minimum, you must be respectful. Note that almost everyone that you interact with every day is battling some demon or trying to get through some issue. Please consider this as you battle your way to work on the subway, as you're hurrying through the lines at the grocery store, or as you get frustrated with someone in a meeting at work,” she said.
Shotwell shared that SpaceX has a “no as*hole policy.” “These kinds of people […] interrupt others, they shut down or co-opt conversation, and they create a hostile environment where no one wants to contribute. This is not a way to promote sharing good, innovative, and even outrageous ideas that are required to solve hard problems. In short, the best way to find solutions to hard problems is to listen harder, not talk louder. Embrace the ideas of your fellow workers, especially when they differ greatly from yours,” she advised. Watch SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell’s Northwestern University Class of 2021 commencement speech in the 12-minute video below.
Featured Image Source: Northwestern University Livestream
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.