Former astronaut, previous chancellor join list of SIUC commencement speakers

By Evan Jones and Anna Spoerre, Daily Egyptian

Joan Higginbotham will speak at the 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. commencement ceremonies Friday.

Higginbotham, a 1987 SIU graduate from Chicago, is the third African-American woman to take a shuttle into space. 

“My career plan originally did not include becoming an astronaut,” she said during a NASA interview. “What I had envisioned for myself was to get a degree — my electrical engineering degree — and go on to work for IBM.”


She started working at Kennedy Space Center in Florida two weeks after earning a bachelor’s degree from SIU, and later went on to earn two master’s degrees from Florida Institute of Technology.

In December 2006 she spent almost 13 hours in space aboard Discovery and participated in 53 space shuttle launches during her nine-year tenure at Kennedy Space Center, according to her NASA profile. 

She received the university’s Distinguished Service Award in 1997 and was named the Homecoming parade grand marshal in 2007 — the same year she retired from NASA.

Higginbotham, who now lives in Charlotte, N.C., with her husband, was unable to be reached for comment.  

Don Beggs will speak at the 1:30 p.m. commencement ceremony Friday.

Beggs returns to campus as a former SIUC chancellor and dean of the College of Education.

He began his education in 1959 at SIU, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He went on to the University of Iowa to finish his doctoral degree.


Beggs received an honorary degree from SIU earlier this school year.

“It’s an enormous compliment,” he said at the time. “It’s something I did not anticipate or see coming.”

After working at SIU for 32 years, Beggs took the position of president at Wichita State in 1999 until 2012.

He was on SIU’s campus during some of the most historic moments of the university.

“I’ll always remember when [presidential] candidate John Kennedy was on campus,” he previously told the Daily Egyptian. “He drove through the campus, as students we got to see him and Jackie. That was a special time.”

SIU President Randy Dunn worked with Beggs as a faculty members while Beggs served as the College of Education’s dean.

“One of the most unfortunate things that took place in SIU’s recent history is the fact that Don did not remain as chancellor after he served that role so well on campus,” Dunn has said.

The Daily Egyptian’s campus desk can be reached at 618-536-3325 or [email protected].