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‘Hero of Hudson’ Sullenberger to speak at Purdue commencement

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The “Hero of the Hudson” will be the featured speaker at Purdue University’s commencement ceremony at 9:30 a.m. May 15 in Elliott Hall of Music.

Sully Sullenberger, the Hero of the Hudson

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger

Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who safely landed a commercial airliner on the Hudson River in New York and saved the lives of 155 passengers and crew a little over two years ago, will speak at the commencement and will also receive a Purdue honorary doctorate during the ceremony.

Sullenberger’s participation will come at one of five commencement ceremonies on the West Lafayette campus from Friday, May 13, through Sunday, May 15, in the Elliott Hall of Music. President France A. Córdova also will speak during the ceremony and introduce Sullenberger and will address graduates at the other four West Lafayette ceremonies.

Commencement ceremonies also will take place in May for Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central.

Sullenberger, who holds a master’s degree in industrial psychology from Purdue, will return to the campus for the second time in six months. In November he was the guest of honor for the annual President’s Council Weekend and during the weekend received a Distinguished Alumnus Award from the College of Liberal Arts and was awarded the university’s Neil Armstrong Medal of Excellence by Armstrong. Sullenberger also signed copies of his book “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters.”

“Behind Captain Sullenberger’s heroics on the Hudson lies years of hard work and training – including during his time at Purdue – that prepared him for that defining moment,” Córdova said. “Our goal is to help ensure that our Boilermaker students are prepared for their defining moments as well. We are proud to call ‘Sully’ a Purdue alumnus, and it is an honor to present him with an honorary doctorate and have him as a commencement speaker.”

Sullenberger rose to international fame in January 2009. Just after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in New York City, a flock of geese took out both engines on his US Airways airliner. Sullenberger told his passengers to brace for a hard landing and then set the plane down safely on the Hudson River. With the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop, he stayed on board until the passengers and crew were safely off the plane. The incident became known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

Sullenberger had the education and background to be prepared. A native of Denison, Texas, who learned to fly as a teenager, he received his undergraduate degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1973. He earned the Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship award there. Within weeks he was at Purdue taking summer classes to complete his master’s work. He also received a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Northern Colorado.

In “Highest Duty,” Sullenberger says his study at Purdue prepared him well for the challenges he would face.

Sullenberger served as a fighter pilot for the U.S. Air Force from 1975-80 and became a flight leader and training officer. Afterward, he joined Pacific Southwest Airlines, which later became US Airways, as a pilot. He has more than 40 years of flying experience and has served in various safety and investigative capacities in the airline industry. He remains an aviation safety expert and accident investigator and is founder and CEO of Safety Reliability Methods, a consulting company dedicated to management, safety, performance and reliability.

Purdue will award degrees on the West Lafayette campus during five ceremonies:

  • Friday, May 13. 8 p.m. College of Engineering.
  • Saturday, May 14. 9:30 a.m. College of Liberal Arts and School of Veterinary Medicine.
  • Saturday, May 14. 2:30 p.m. Colleges of Science and Technology.
  • Sunday, May 15. 9:30 a.m. Colleges of Health and Human Sciences, Education and Pharmacy.
  • Sunday, May 15. 2:30 p.m. College of Agriculture and School of Management.

At IPFW, commencement will take place at 7 p.m. May 11 at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.

At the Purdue North Central campus, the commencement ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. (CDT) May 16 at the Valparaiso University Athletic Recreation Center.

At Purdue Calumet, the commencement ceremonies will take place at 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. (CDT) May 22 at the Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville, Ind.

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