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October 15, 2011

Mark Kelly shows you can come home again

By Michael Lewis

KINGS POINT, N.Y. – You can come home again. Ask just retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who returned to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy campus for the first time in years with other alumni on Homecoming on Saturday.

He participated in the ceremonial pre-game coin toss with the captains of the opposing schools and officials.

Kelly, who completed his final mission on the Shuttle Endeavor in May and June, watched the first half of the Mariners' 45-16 defeat to the University of Rochester at Tomb Field. He watched the game with his wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is recovering from gunshot wounds suffered in an attempted assassination attempt in January.

The 47-year-old Kelly declined to talk about his wife's recovery, but he was elated and delighted to be back on campus. Kelly received a rousing reception from the crowd of 2,600 when he was introduced.

Needless to say, many people wanted to talk to and shake Kelly's hand. Only minutes prior to kickoff, Mariners head football coach Mike Toop spoke to the West Orange, N.J. native.

Like many of the alumni who returned for Homecoming, Kelly was just happy to be back. 

"Well, it's been 25 years and it's always great to come back," he said, "especially when it's a reunion year and to see all my classmates, to come back to this really great school, I'm happy to be here."

During his time at the school, Kelly, member of the Class of '86. distinguished himself, earning a B.S. degree in marine engineering and nautical science while graduating with the highest honors.

Asked if he had any memorable moments, Kelly replied with a smile, "Memorable moments? Just getting up every morning at six o'clock to go and march around the [school]."

He did not participate in any sports, but he was the RX – the regimental officer during his time at the Academy.

He noticed that the current RX, Shawn Antonelli "has been promoted. H's got like an extra bar. Yeah, how did that happen?"

Kelly admitted he had not made up his mind just yet on his future plans.

"I don't know," he said. "I'm going to take a little time off, do a little speaking. I don't know. I've got to figure it out."

Photo: Mark Kelly participates in the pre-game coin toss prior to the Mariners' football game. Photo by Gregg Matalas