'Sully' gives great guidance at Purdue University commencement

EducationColleges and UniversitiesPurdue UniversityHudson RiverChesley B. Sullenberger III

The man who became famous for his quick action that saved lives, when he guided a plane full of passengers to safety, helped launched the careers of thousands of Purdue graduates today.

U.S. Air Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger gave the commencement address at Purdue University Sunday morning.

Sully was the captain of a U.S. Air flight in January 2009, that lost power, after a flock of birds were sucked into the plane's engines just after takeoff from New Jersey. With just a few minutes before the plane would fall to the ground, Sully quickly weighed his options and decided to guide the plane to the Hudson River, where it splashed down. No one was hurt and Sully and his crew drew world-wide attention in what is now known as "Miracle on the Hudson."

Sully recalled his days at Purdue and how that prepared him for his days in the cockpit.

"It's wonderful to be back on campus. The last time I participated in a Purdue commencement ceremony, it was 1973, and I was sitting where you are today, having just received my master's degree in industrial psychology.

"I should probably start this talk the same way I do most of my speeches and remind you that the events on January 15 were the result of a crew effort, that it was not just about me. The rest of my crew isn't here today, but if they were, I know what my First Officer Jeff Skiles would say. Jeff would say, 'You know, I deserve some recognition, too. After all, I'm the one who flew the airplane into the birds and made Sully the hero he is today.'"

"I know I'm here because of the events of January 15, 2009, and because of the power of that story. But I'm also here because of what I have learned over many decades and my tens of thousands of hours of experience. And I am also here because my family has always had a strong emphasis on education. I was privileged to grow up in a safe, stable environment in which education was valued, ideas were important, and striving for excellence was expected."

"College graduation doesn't mark the end of your learning. In fact, it's just the beginning. Purdue has taught you how to learn, but the learning process will continue throughout your life. Now you must continue to learn, to see new connections, discover the interrelatedness of things in life, and gain experience and wisdom by paying attention at every step along the way, creating new ideas by expanding on existing ones."

"After January 15, I began to hear from my colleagues, people I had flown with years, sometimes decades, before. They began to tell me what they call 'Sully stories,' events that I had long ago forgotten, but that they hadn't because something I had said, something I had done, situations that I had handled had resonated with them. They remembered them, and they've been kind enough to share them with me. Sometimes I'm reminded of important flight-related safety issues and sometimes I'm told about the time that I simply helped a passenger who needed a wheelchair or stood up for a flight attendant in the face of an unreasonable passenger."

"It turns out that my reputation had been built over many years, one interaction, one person, one day at a time. I think that's true in each of our lives; in every encounter with another person, there is inherently an opportunity for good, for ill, or for indifference. There is an opportunity to be a leader; there is an opportunity to be a teammate; there is an opportunity to take responsibility; there is an opportunity to make a difference. Even if you're a graduating college student - even if you're working at your first job, headed to graduate school, or simply talking with a friend or family member - never forget that you are building your reputation, and that someday, someone will tell a story about something you have done. Make sure that story paints a picture of the person who matches your goals and your ideas. Live your lives in such a way that your values are apparent. You'll be taking important steps that will result in a life well lived."

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