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Monday, 22 September 2014

Master of Sciences and Graduation from the International Space University

Welcome back to Embrace Space! This is a very special post covering my graduation from the ISU and receiving my Master of Sciences diploma. Leading up to that, I will reflect a little on my time there and the difference 1 year has made.
I started this post reflecting on everything that has happened in this last year. Feeling a sense of deja vu, I realized I had written it before, which you may find/recall here. Written just before my internship at NASA, it does a great job at evaluating all that had happened until that point. So, I will try to focus on the last few weeks at the ISU.

It was difficult to be as social as I wanted during the last few weeks in Strasbourg. Rather than being at the school all the time, the students were staying at a student residence, and with small rooms, it was hard getting everyone together.

Late in the summer, it had come to our attention that we needed a speaker for graduation. With some confusion, the role was eventually put to a vote. This past year has given me a lot more confidence in myself and my role within groups. I put my name forward on the hope that I could share some of my feelings with my classmates. Most of all, I wanted to thank my friends for bringing me out of my shell and giving me an incredible year.

With a vast majority, I was voted to be the speaker, and I was very grateful for the literal votes of confidence. Requesting another to speak with me, I was delighted to see that my good friend and colleague, Lilia, had been voted to stand up there with me. It was a fitting pair; Lilia (or Leena as many of us call her), had been by my side the entire year, working in our team project, constantly correcting my grammar, insisting I never use the word "upon", and often acting as my "Commander Riker", issuing tasks and getting everyone moving. So, I was excited to be writing and delivering the graduation speech with her.

Writing the speech took less time than I thought. I put a lot of thought into it, made pages and pages of notes, but in the end, writing the speech took one afternoon. Leena added a lot of the spirit of community and involvement, and I added some perspective, and inspiration. With Leena's help, and the insistence of some of my friends, I even added some ridiculousness to the speech.

Earlier in the year, I became homesick and specifically missed one thing many of my friends have in common: the ability and tendency to do impressions and make funny voices. My friend Marco can pretty much impersonate anyone after hearing them for a minute or two, and my friend Alex is always an amazing source of energy and zaniness. At this time, everyone at the ISU was working long hours on our team projects. As project manager, there were some times when my patience was all but gone and all I wanted to do was yell at people for wasting my time. Knowing it would be a bad manager who simply yelled at his team, I started using funny voices to vent my frustration and spice up our long boring meetings. Very soon, everyone was laughing and loving it. So, it is a practice I have kept up.

Graduation day had finally arrived, everyone was wearing their very best. Receiving the diploma went as expected, as every graduation ceremony goes, and I didn't feel much at the time. Afterward, it was time for our speech.

Now, a few videos were made of the speech and the ceremony, but I am waiting for a friend to edit them together before sharing it here. It went well, Leena and I sharing memories and making everyone laugh. The conclusion was nice and everyone joined in with shouts and applause.

I felt great, I felt accomplished, but it wasn't until I came back to Canada before everything set in. I wished my friends well and vowed to keep in touch, some of whom I would see soon as they were coming to Toronto for a conference. I was returning to North America, having not spent much time there since last Christmas. I did not want to leave, especially considering the relationships I had made, but I also knew that I missed people back home, and that I wanted to come back to Europe soon.

Since coming home a few days ago, I have met with family, friends of family, and have many more people I want to see. I stopped by my old high school and gave some NASA postcards to my favourite teachers. Recalling my adventure made me really realize how far I had come.

In this last year, I have lived in France, visited Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, the UK, and interned at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. I have seen satellites, rockets, visited commercial space companies and the space agencies of Europe, Russia, and the United States. I have learned about the industry, who the major players are, and feel that I have earned a place within the industry.

At the end of the month, the International Astronomical Conference will take place in Toronto, Canada. I will not only reunite with a few ISU friends, but I will present my work and be present at the work our team completed this year. I plan to meet as many people as I can, attend as many presentations as possible, and learn about/make opportunities in this industry.

My main goals now are to reunite with friends and family in Canada, and to make a place for myself within this industry. I want to go back to Europe, so I have been applying to jobs with the European Space Agency, and begun to look into the commercial sector. I want to pursue a PhD but it is costly, so I am hoping to gain experience and funding by working first.

It has only been one year, but it has been a year completely full of memory and opportunity. The International Space University has helped me become more worldly, more connected with the people in the space industry, and has given me confidence that I belong there, that I deserve to be there, and that I can continue to make positive contributions to this field which I love so much.

Thank you all who have helped me to get here, thank you to those who were by my side (either literally or figuratively). As I continue moving forward, I will bring you all with me. For now, I will just continue working hard, and let Picard inspire me, as always.

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