Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly Inspire RIT
by Andrew Magown | published Oct. 13th, 2013
After receiving the call that his wife, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in the head, Mark Kelly’s perspective on the world changed forever. "I thought I had the risky job," said Kelly, American astronaut and retired U.S. Navy captain. "As it would turn out, Gabby would nearly lose her life serving our country."
On October 12, the two made a guest appearance for the Horton Distinguished Speakers at this year’s RIT Brick City Homecoming to talk to students and families about overcoming challenges.
After being introduced by Student Government (SG) president Paul Darragh, SG director of programming Lauren Brockbank and President Bill Destler, the lights began to dim and news recordings from Tuscon, Arizona’s 2011 shooting began playing. It was at this shooting that Giffords was severely injured and six others were killed.
When the video had ended, Kelly took the stage and began by talking about his parents, mentioning that his mother became one of the first female police officers in the state of New Jersey. Kelly commented, “Well this is the first time in my life that I saw the power of having a goal and a plan, and working really, really hard and not giving up.”
Kelly then talked of his service in the U.S. Navy, where he struggled with his training to become an official pilot, now with over 50 flights on his record. Later he would fly military missions during Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and pilot space shuttles, such as the Endeavor, to the International Space Station.
Next Kelly talked about his wife and how the two were able to face her recovery. After the shooting, Giffords underwent multiple brain surgeries, therapy sessions and eventually replaced a part of her skull with a prosthetic. “The power of the human spirit is an incredible thing,” said Kelly of his wife’s resilience. “It’s amazing to watch Gabby to fight so hard to survive, and fight so hard to come back. She teaches me each and every day to deny the acceptance of failure.”
Giffords took the stage and spoke to the RIT community, saying, “I’m still fighting to make the world a better place, and you can too. Be passionate, be courageous and be your best.”
Each audience member appeared touched and inspired by Kelly and Giffords’s story. Shamoy David, a third year Networking and Systems Administration major, commented on what he took from the speech. “I’ve always been facing challenges, being from the Virgin Islands, but conflict resolution is what I took,” said David. “Don’t let things build up and overcome you. You can always find a way to express your feelings and solve your problems.”
A family visiting RIT for Brick City weekend, Hannah, Joseph and Donna Archuleta, were also very touched by the presentation. Hannah Archuleta, a senior from Creighton University, said, “If you are passionate about something and you love it, you will continue to do despite adversities. It’s awe inspiring. You can either be a victim or a survivor.” Her father Joseph Archuleta also enjoyed the speakers. “It’s hard to put certain pieces of the puzzle together and these challenges are just part of a modern family and their journey,” he said.
Director of campus life Karey Pine said, “I’m particularly touched by the message of being grateful, and I think that is it, we get in the middle of our own busy worlds and we forget that we have really great fortune in being here on the earth and doing the things we love.”
Heath P. Boice-Pardee, vice president of student affairs, agreed with Pine. “As a fellow dreamer I like to move forward a vision or a goal every day and you know they did with love and caring and humor and I thought that that was terrific,” said Boice-Pardee.