Harte, Ehlmann to address undergraduate Class of 2024

Graduating senior Andre Harte will address the Class of 2024 during the Arts & Sciences Recognition Ceremony. He will be joined by alumna Bethany Ehlmann, a professor of planetary science at Caltech.

Student Speaker: Andre Harte

Andre Harte

Andre Harte knows the Class of 2024 has yet to experience a “normal” commencement. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted their high school graduations four years ago. He also knows they have been praised repeatedly for their resilience.

“We’ve heard speeches since 2020 using the same buzzwords about resilience and perseverance so, instead, I am trying to come across honestly as someone within the class,” he said. “We’ve learned that the future is uncertain and, rather than worrying about the future or dwelling in the past, I hope to convey to the Class of 2024 the importance of living in the present and making as much meaning as we can here and now.”    

Despite an atypical start to his college experience due to the pandemic, Harte has been involved in many activities and programs across campus. An Ervin Scholar, he said one of his favorite memories was celebrating the program’s 35th anniversary, a time when alumni gathered back on WashU’s campus. He has also been involved in the Performing Arts Department’s musical productions and served as co-captain of the improv comedy group Mama’s Pot Roast. 

Harte spent several semesters as a teaching assistant for “Designing Creativity: Innovation Across Disciplines,” a first-year course that allows students to hear from guest speakers on topics such as creativity, design, failure, and the creative process. “Hearing from a wide variety of guest speakers including public health professionals, actors, and chefs all talking about their identities as artists has encouraged me not to box myself into one interest and to dip my toes into the range of opportunities available at WashU.”

After graduation, Harte will return home to Cincinnati, Ohio, to continue his creative work developing a musical for a youth theater camp. He has also applied to a teaching assistant program in France. “There's a serious discomfort with uncertainty about the future, but there's also so much possibility,” Harte said. “That's why I want to make a crazy decision like going to France for seven months."

“Before I put down roots in a certain place, I want to take my own advice and seize the moment because I don't know what the future will hold.”

Alumni Speaker: Bethany Ehlmann

Bethany Ehlmann, AB ’04 (Photo credit: Caltech/Lance Hayashida)

Bethany Ehlmann, AB ’04, has been on an upward trajectory since her days as a WashU undergraduate. Majoring in both Earth and planetary sciences and environmental studies, she spent the last semester of her senior year at the Jet Propulsion Lab working on NASAs Mars Exploration Rover mission with her advisor, Ray Arvidson, and living on “Mars time.” Exploring another planet, seeing new vistas, deciphering data — she was hooked.

Ehlmann launched the next phase of her training at the University of Oxford where, as a Rhodes Scholar, she earned masters degrees in environmental change and management and geography later followed by a PhD in geological sciences at Brown University. Now a professor of planetary science at Caltech, Ehlmann is conducting science research while leading mission teams. And, as a member of National Academies advisory committees, she continues to call on her multidisciplinary training at WashU as she addresses the overarching questions of current science policy. “Im exactly where I wanted to be,” she told the Ampersand in 2020.

Ehlmann has been deeply involved with the Mars rovers Curiosity and Perseverance. She had extensively studied the Jezero Crater — the landing spot of Perseverance — during her PhD, making her a leading expert on the location.

Ehlmann is also the principal investigator of NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer mission, a project that will send a small satellite into polar orbit around the Moon to measure the abundance and distribution of water. The satellite is scheduled to launch in late 2024. For that mission, Ehlmann will be archiving data with the PDS Geosciences Node housed at WashU. In her quest to investigate water on the Moon, she’s getting a boost from her alma mater.