Michelle Obama Jokes About Solar Car Explosion at OSU Commencement

June 18, 2012 - 1:29 PM
Michelle Obama Oregon

First Lady Michelle Obama holds up her diploma after receiving an honorary degree during the Oregon State University graduation ceremony in Corvallis, Ore., Sunday June 17, 2012. The First Lady gave the commencement address at Oregon State University, the school where her brother is the head basketball coach. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

(CNSNews.com) – First lady Michelle Obama joked about the explosion of a solar-powered car when encouraging graduates of Oregon State University to persevere through life’s challenges.

The first lady was the commencement speaker Sunday at OSU in Corvallis, Ore., where her brother, Craig Robinson, is the men’s basketball coach.

“In those darkest moments, you will have a choice,” the first lady said. “Do you dwell on everything you’ve lost? Or do you focus on what you still have, and find a way to move forward with passion, with determination, and with joy?”

One of the examples she gave was of a student who faced severe burns when the $100,000 solar-powered car he helped build exploded and left him with severe burns.

“And then there’s another member of the class of 2012, Nicolas Sitts, who’s earning his degree in Chemical Engineering,” Michelle Obama said. “I understand that as a member of OSU’s Solar Vehicle Team, Nicolas spent two years painstakingly building a solar car.

“But when he took it out for a test drive last summer, it caught fire and exploded, and Nicolas sustained second- and third-degree burns on his arm, face and leg. But instead of throwing in the towel, within a month, the team was back at work, building another, hopefully less explosive car,” the first lady continued.

The last line received laughter from the audience.

News reports from July 2011 said that Sitts suffered first- and second-degree burns.

He drove the OSU Solar Car Team on July 16, 2011 when he heard a popping noise; KEZI News of Springfield, Ore. reported. “Seconds later, an explosion and fire erupt that destroys the $100,000 solar car. It took just a few minutes for the car to become just scraps of burnt parts,” KEZI reported.

KEZI reported that Sitts got out of the vehicle before the explosion, but was hospitalized because he suffered burns to his face, knee and elbow.

“It wasn’t until a lot later that I started thinking it could have been a lot worse,” Sitts told KEZI. “But mainly, it felt like a bad sun burn.”

KEZI reported that Sitts and the rest of the team want to rebuild.