Scott Willoughby ’89 to Lehigh’s Class of 2024: ‘Discover You, Find Success’

STORY BY Kristen DiPrinzio / PHOTOGRAPHY BY Christa Neu / POSTED ON May 19, 2024

Scott Willoughby ’89 delivered the Commencement address at Sunday's undergraduate ceremony for the Class of 2024.

Willoughby, [Delta Tau Delta alumnus and] senior vice president of performance excellence at Northrop Grumman and program manager for NASA’s James Webb telescope, delivered the address during Lehigh’s 156th Commencement.

Northrop Grumman’s Scott Willoughby ’89 took Lehigh graduates, families and guests on a cosmic journey during Sunday’s undergraduate ceremony for the Class of 2024—a journey 13.5 billion years back in time, to the birth of the universe…and how that led him to where he is today.

Delivering the keynote address at the 156th undergraduate ceremony, Willoughby, a first-generation college student, shared that his own career was not a series of “well-thought-out milestones,” but one in which learning about himself “was far more important than matching anyone else’s expectations of what I should be.”

Willoughby, senior vice president of performance excellence for Northrop Grumman, had played a pivotal role in the development of NASA’s James Webb space telescope, an engineering marvel and the world’s most powerful space telescope ever built. Northrop Grumman, a leading global aerospace and defense technology company, served as prime contractor on the telescope.

To design, build, test and launch Webb, a global endeavor was needed to make its historic mission a reality. The Northrop Grumman industry team, led by Willoughby in partnership with NASA, designed, built, completed its integration, tested its state-of-the-art scientific instruments and prepared the observatory for launch. The Webb program enlisted more than 14 countries, three space agencies (NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency), 400 companies and suppliers, and 300 universities and science organizations to take the telescope from concept to reality.

“We, humanity, have built a cosmic time machine,” Willoughby said. “It was a mission NASA conceived to answer the questions, where do we come from? And are we alone?”

Willoughby described the development and construction of the telescope as being marked by several failures, all of which were closely watched by the media and the public. He said allowing the public to witness the challenging journey “only cemented how important and impressive the success was at the end of it.”