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State

Astronaut to speak at U. of Illinois commencement

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Astronaut and University of Illinois graduate Michael Hopkins will deliver the commencement address at his alma mater's spring graduation next month.

Hopkins recently returned from a 166-day stay aboard the International Space Station. He graduated from Illinois in 1991 with a degree in aerospace engineering. He was also a walk-on member of the Illini football team. Hopkins later was one of the football captains.

"I wouldn't be sitting here, just having returned from space, without the University of Illinois," Hopkins said in a statement announcing his address.

"The total experience at Illinois - both the educational and the social side - really made me feel like a member of a larger team, and being a part of the team is a big part of what we do at NASA," Hopkins said.

The Richland, Mo., native was accepted into NASA's astronaut training program in 2011 after trying without success for almost 12 years.

He said giving the graduation address makes him apprehensive.

"I'm as nervous as I was going out on that first spacewalk," he said. "I'm still getting comfortable with speaking in front of a large group of people - and there's still a little bit of disbelief that they would consider me."

The spring commencement ceremony will be May 17 in Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

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