Former NFL Wide Receiver and NASA Astronaut Set to Inspire NCCU Fall Graduates

Posted November 21, 2023, 4:01PM

Leland Melvin, the first NFL draftee to have flown in space, will serve as the keynote speaker for North Carolina Central University (NCCU)’s 142nd Commencement Exercises on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. 

The baccalaureate ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. followed by the graduate and professional ceremony at 2 p.m., both in McDougald-McLendon Arena, 700 E. Lawson St. 

In 1986, Melvin was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 11th round of the NFL draft. Following an unrecoverable hamstring injury, his NASA career began in 1989 in the fiber optic sensors group of the nondestructive evaluation sciences branch at NASA Langley Research Center. There, he conducted research in the area of physical measurements for the development of advanced instrumentation for nondestructive evaluation. He later served on board the Space Shuttle Atlantis as a specialist on the 2008 mission and 2009 STS-129 mission, helping to construct the International Space Station.   

Upon hanging up his space boots, he led NASA Education and co-chaired the White House’s Federal Coordination in STEAM Education Task Force, developing the nation’s five-year STEM education plan.  

After 24 years as a NASA researcher, astronaut and senior executive service leader, he shares his life story as an athlete, astronaut, scientist, engineer, photographer and musician to help inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue STEAM careers. 

In May 2017, Leland released his memoir, "Chasing Space: An Astronaut's Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances." In "Chasing Space," Leland shares his personal journey from the gridiron to the stars, and examines the intersecting roles of community, perseverance, and grace that align to create the opportunities for success. 

In addition to his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Richmond and master’s degree in materials science engineering from the University of Virginia, Leland holds six honorary doctorates for his service in education, the sciences and philanthropy. 

Both ceremonies will stream live on the university’s website, Facebook page and YouTube channel.  

To ensure the safety of NCCU’s graduates and guests at both commencement ceremonies, attendees will be required to go through a security check. The university will also implement its clear bag policy. All permissible bags must be clear plastic, vinyl or PVC, and less than 12" x 12"x 6". Exceptions will be made for medical and baby needs. Small wristlets and clutches (less than 4.5" x 6.5" x 1") with or without a strap are permitted. 

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