Summit High alumna to highlight pursuing passions at weekend graduation |

Summit High alumna to highlight pursuing passions at weekend graduation

Rebecca Espina, a 1992 graduate of Summit High School and the valedictorian that year, is now a senior structural dynamics engineer working on the late-2018 launch of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. Almost 25 years after graduating from the Frisco-based high school, she will give the commencement address at her alma mater this Saturday, May 28.
Courtesy of Rebecca Espina |

Some years after graduating from Summit High School as its valedictorian in 1992, Rebecca Espina acknowledges she doesn’t remember the message passed along to her and her classmates by the commencement speaker.

She recalls the individual who gave the address — mostly because it was the older brother of a fellow student — but cops to probably being a bit more focused in the moment on ensuring her own monologue was dialed in. But now approaching a quarter century since she moved her tassel from right to left, Espina is tasked with offering the words of wisdom at graduation this Saturday morning at the Frisco-based high school.

Espina, a senior structural dynamics engineer working as a contractor at NASA, still feels ties to the region. Her parents remain in the same Silverthorne home she grew up in, she has two brothers still living in the area as well, and she visits once or twice a year with her daughter. But to really leave an impression on Summit’s class of 2016, Espina is turning to a bit of popular music — and with a personal touch.

“Interestingly enough, there’s this song out,” said Espina. “It references: ‘We used to play pretend, give each other different names / used to build rocket ships … used to dream of outer space, but now they’re laughing at our face.’ The first few times I heard that song, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s just hilarious, because I am in the rocket-space industry.”

“…You’re always generating your good old days, so don’t limit yourself to what that can be.”Rebecca Espina

The song’s premise is the desire of its authors — an alternative rock band appropriately named Twenty One Pilots — to go back to the good old days, when we could all effortlessly live out our dreams. But that we’ve all had to give that up in order to get by and make ends meet.

Instead, the message from Espina, given her career path and ability to make a living chasing it: “Why not keep your dream of building rocket ships and going to outer space? Go explore things that you pretended to be when you were younger, and go for it. And go make money doing it.”

Espina, who moved to Summit County with her family in 1983 and started in the local school district in fifth grade, thinks she first developed her interest in space through her parents. She recollects them waking up her and her siblings to watch shuttle launches on television in the middle of the night.

She also vividly remembers sitting in a hot, dusty car for hours with her family one summer at the White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico waiting on a potential shuttle landing. That, and being in her school classroom watching the Challenger Shuttle explosion on TV, and growing up watching the film adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff.”

All of that culminated, however, when she raised the money all by herself to attend Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, while in middle school.

“It really was an awesome thing,” she said. “I had so much fun, and it was then I was really excited about it.”

From there, she attended the University of Colorado-Boulder, and finished her degree in aerospace engineering in 1997. Today, she lives in Maryland and since 2010 has worked for Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, better known as just SGT, Inc. With her company, she works out of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the Washington, D.C. area, part of the team building the James Webb Space Telescope, the largest space telescope to date, which is set to launch in late-2018.

Now, Espina is not under the impression that everyone she’ll be speaking to this weekend can or would even want to enter the space industry. It’s about more the essence of the greater point.

“I look it as a way to do outreach and say, ‘This is where I am, this is what we do, this is really cool and exciting, and you can get there in life yourself,’” she said. “‘You can have these opportunities.’”

Through the song, titled “Stressed Out,” the idea she will present is, yes, there will be heavier moments than the others when you’re just feeling happy, excited and having fun, but that’s a part of the overall experience, too. It’s the ability to overcome them in pursuit of your loftiest dreams and goals that will make it all worth it, and she is a local example of just how it can all turn out.

“Ya know, life is going to be stressful,” said Espina. “Life is going to stress you out sometimes, and you have to learn to get through it, and you just have to forge ahead and keep going.”

And despite the challenges, pursue your passions. But in those tough moments, there’s no need to look back on what we perceive as the good times, because we’re constantly creating new memories and treasured experiences.

“Your good old days are not just when you’re living with your parents as a youngster,” said Espina. “In 10 years, you’re going to look back and say, ‘Oh, my good old days of college.’ And you go on and get married, and you have kids, and then you have those good old days with your kids. You’re always generating your good old days, so don’t limit yourself to what that can be.”

Catch Rebecca Espina’s commencement speech at Summit High School in Frisco at graduation on Saturday, May 28 at 10 a.m.

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