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NASA astronaut Zena Cardman to be speaker for spring 2024 commencement


Zena Cardman, a UNC alumna and astronaut candidate with NASA's 2017 class, poses for a potrait in front of Morehead Planetarium on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. Cardman entered the cohort as one of 12 from over 18,000 applicants.

NASA astronaut Zena Cardman will be the keynote speaker at UNC’s spring 2024 Commencement, the University announced Thursday morning.

She will address the spring 2024 graduates at the ceremony on Saturday, May 11, at 7 p.m. in Kenan Stadium.

Cardman earned a Bachelor of Science in biology and Master of Science in marine sciences from UNC in 2010 and 2014, respectively. During her time as a student, Cardman's research was primarily focused on microbial systems in extreme environments, such as hydrothermal vents.

Selected as a NASA astronaut in 2017, Cardman's work includes supporting station operations and development for lunar surface exploration. She is now the commander of NASA’s Crew-9 mission, a four-person crew that will launch to the International Space Station later this year. The group will join an international crew and will conduct a range of operational and research activities during their stay.

“Her dedication to pushing the boundaries of research aligns with Carolina’s mission of discovery, innovation and the pursuit of excellence,” Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts said in a press release. “As an exemplary Tar Heel, Zena is well positioned to address our graduates and we all look forward to hearing about her experiences.”

Cardman returned to UNC in 2019 for University Research Week, during which she discussed her work with NASA and reflected on her experiences as a student. She said she hopes UNC’s graduating students are able to focus on their experiences and relationships built at the University for a long time.

“It can be tricky to stay present while also looking forward to an imminent future, but I’d encourage graduating seniors to think about what’s right in front of them, here and now,” Cardman said in a press release. “Who will you carry with you into this next stage? What do you value? What do you want to improve for others? The answers to these questions can be found in the present and will carry through a lifetime.”


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Ashley Quincin

Ashley Quincin is a 2023-24 assistant university desk editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a university staff writer. Ashley is a senior pursuing a degree in English and comparative literature, with a double minor in media and journalism and composition, rhetoric and digital literacy.