NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will be unable to participate in the College of Charleston’s Winter Commencement due to the fact that he will be attending the memorial service for the late Senator John Glenn in Ohio on that same day.

Portrait, Dava J. Newman, Deputy Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman will deliver the commencement address in place of Bolden.

As the Deputy Administrator, Newman assists the administrator in making final agency decisions, and acts for the administrator in his absence by performing all necessary functions to govern NASA operations and exercises the powers vested in the agency by law.

Prior to her tenure with NASA, Newman was the Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. Her expertise is in multidisciplinary research that encompasses aerospace biomedical engineering. She earned a Ph.D. in aerospace biomedical engineering from MIT in 1992 and master of science degrees in aerospace engineering and technology and policy in 1989. She earned a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 1986.

The College will present Bolden with an honorary degree at a future date to be determined.


Many commencement speakers encourage graduates to “reach for the stars.” But that advice actually has some literal meaning for College of Charleston Winter Commencement speaker Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden.

Before becoming the twelfth administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Bolden was an astronaut who orbited the earth four times aboard the space shuttle, commanding two of the missions and piloting two other missions. His flights included deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope and the first joint U.S.-Russian shuttle mission, which featured a cosmonaut as a member of his crew.

Tap and Jean Johnson will receive honorary degrees.

Bolden will deliver the commencement address to the College’s graduating class on Dec. 17, 2016. The ceremony will be held in the College’s T.D Arena beginning at 2 p.m.

A native of Columbia, South Carolina, and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Bolden’s 34-year career with the U.S. Marine Corps included combat service as a Naval aviator in Vietnam and 14 years in NASA’s Astronaut Office. His many military decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in May 2006.

Following his distinguished service in a number of high-profile posts around the world, Bolden retired from the Marine Corps in 2003. President Barack Obama nominated him to serve as administrator of NASA, and following his confirmation by the U.S. Senate, he began serving as the head of the U.S. space program in July 2009.

James (deceased) and Esther Ferguson at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston on May 19, 2014 (© MCG Photography)

The College of Charleston enjoys a strong relationship with NASA. The College is the home of NASA’s South Carolina Space Grant Consortium, which supports and promotes research, education, and public service related to NASA and encourages involvement by South Carolina students in national science and technology initiatives. The College has also received millions of dollars in grant funding from NASA over the past 10 years in support of faculty and student research.

“The College is honored to have Mr. Bolden as a commencement speaker,” says Cassandra Runyon, associate professor of geology and director of the South Carolina Space Grant Consortium (SCSGC). “During my years with the SCSGC, I have been able to experience first-hand the benefits of Mr. Bolden’s leadership and commitment toward quality education and training our next generation of explorers.”

In addition to Bolden, the College of Charleston will also present honorary degrees (one posthumously) to the following individuals:

  • The late James L. Ferguson served with the Army Corps of Engineers in World War II and joined General Foods Corporation in 1963, serving as chief executive officer from 1973 to 1987. A graduate of Harvard Business School and Hamilton College, where he was a life trustee, Ferguson was an Aspen Institute trustee and served on the Hollings Cancer Center Board of Directors, the Medical University of South Carolina Foundation for Research Development, the Middleton Place Foundation and the Council on Foreign Relations. In 1992, Ferguson became the first board chairman for the South Carolina Aquarium.
  • Esther Ferguson founded the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University and has served on the boards of the Gibbes Museum of Art, Spoleto Festival USA, Young Concert Artists and Charleston Symphony. At the College, Ferguson served on the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture Advisory Board; she her late husband Jim sponsored the International Piano Series at the School of the Arts; and the couple gave the CofC Foundation a home in Trujillo, Spain, thus facilitating the College’s longstanding Trujillo study-abroad program.
  • A 46-year veteran of the insurance industry, Tapley “Tap” Johnson Jr. retired in 2009 as chairman of Tapoco Underwriters Inc., which he founded in 1983. Johnson served on the School of Business Board of Governors, the CofC Foundation Board and the Cougar Club Board. He and his wife Jean were the first couple to receive the College’s Alumni Award of Honor.
  • Jean Johnson taught in Charleston County’s elementary schools for years and given much of her time to the College of Charleston by serving on the Foundation Board, the Cougar Club Board and the School of the Arts Advisory Council. Together with her husband Tap, she has made significant contributions to the College of Charleston: Not only did the Johnsons establish the Tap and Jean Johnson Men’s Basketball Scholarship, they have made generous commitments to the School of the Arts; Athletics; the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance Teacher Leaders Program; and the Schottland Scholars Program.

Featured Photo: NASA