First I would like to congratulate all my fellow undergraduates, we have all made the sacrifices, put in the effort and are graduatingfrom college. The feeling is great, but it has yet to hit me, perhaps because in two days I will be getting in a van and taking my last field trip, 6 weeks of mapping projects from Southern Oregon to Montana. This is a perfect ending. Before I enrolled at Oregon I told myself to find something that I could pursue for the rest of my life, something that would keep me connected with the outdoors, and anything that did not involve working 9 to 5 in a cubicle.
Winter term of 2005 (Josh) I was introduced (me) to geology. After the informative lectures and the hairy field trips I declared my major and have not looked back. Something that has really transformed my philosophy is the concept of time. It is very easy to get caught up in human time scales, where landforms seem constant and the NBA playoffs seem to drag on forever. But everything is changing and moving in some state of disequilibrium. Viscosity is the resistance for a fluid to flow, from water, to honey, to glass, to the earth’s mantle, they all flow, but on different timescales. As we become more and more occupied with technological devices that increase the pace of our daily lives, it becomes very easy to forget how we got here and how long it took. Within 20 years we will all have three dimensional self organizing molecular circuits….(exactly). what the hell is that?
I feel lucky to have found something that is so interesting to me. But I don’t see myself as an exception; I am positive that most of you before me feel the same way. Physics, General Science and Geology are not the most popular degrees (obviously). Perhaps because they are thought to be difficult or unfulfilling in the job market; but when you love something it is easy to invest the time necessary to become successful. Besides, the present state of our economy is not very promising for going out and getting a job. It’s likely that most of you are already enrolled or are strongly considering postgraduate education.
One of my greatest experiences at Oregon wasorchestrated through the geology club. A friend and I set up a few geology labs to teachmiddle and high school kids. At first it was pretty nerve racking, I didn’t think there was any way that we could get some of those kids interested in a rock. Most of them weren’t, they were bored and called us nerds. But a few of them were engaged and asked questions. To introduce these ideas and concepts to kids that might not get another chance to learn about this stuff was such a rewarding feeling. This experience has taught me that if we are to rise,we must rise together. We need to share our knowledge to educate the masses. Imagine how far we would be set back if Einstein, Newton or Galileo never shared their observations. A Chinese proverb says “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Our fields of study are in great demand as the drastic affects of global warming are slowly being recognized. People are ready to change their carbon consumptive lifestyles; the problem is they don’t fully understand how. It will take collaboration not only from different fields of science, but from community organizers, politicians, and most importantly from the younger generation that will soon follow in our footsteps. They are our future.
Today is the day that we enter into the “real world”, now we finally come face to face with our college loans. However, there is another debt that you need to consider, it is subtle but the good news is that it is not a monetary debt. It is something we owe to our faculty, family and ourselves. Keepdoing things. Don’t fall through the cracks, you have come this far and chances are there will be plenty of opportunities that will present themselves. As people already have and inevitably will continue to ask you what your plans are after graduation, some of you may already know, I certainly don’t, but remember that you don’t have to. Life is unpredictable and can change in theblink of an eye. Take advantage of your timeand make the best of every moment.
Let's all celebrate today and reflect on the great experiences we have had through our undergraduate years. As scientists we are constantly trying to find the truth. I will leave you with something from Dr. Suess. “Today you are you, that is truer than true, there is no one alive who is youerthan you.” Good luck to every one of you. Thank you very much. GO DUCKS! <code>
Good morning and congratulations to the class of 2009!!
During my time at UO, I have lectured to classrooms both large and small, but I have never faced an audience like this one. The beaming faces of parents make me wonder what I can possibly say that will somehow justify the many large checks you’ve written to the University of Oregon. And as I look out at the graduates, I struggle to imagine how I’ll maintain your attention given that this is likely one of the last speeches or lectures you’ll ever hear on campus…and it is one for which there is no test!
My sense is that a commencement speech lies somewhere on a continuum that pits college lectures on one end and wedding reception toasts on the other. So, while I’ve been fortunate to have had a lot of fun and some success in the classroom, my record with wedding toasts is far from stellar. And I’ll briefly share one highlight with you today that comes from my own wedding… This was near 10 years ago…We were just about to cut the cake and it was my turn to make a toast. In trying to eloquently describe the circumstances surrounding the beginning of our relationship, I ad-libbed and stumbled upon an incredibly poorly chosen metaphor. I talked about how my wife and I had met at a mutual friend’s birthday party and in trying to emphasize the connection we established, I concluded my toast by saying “on that night a seed was planted.” Well, as it turns out, there are many ways to interpret that statement, one of which doesn’t paint my wife in a particularly good light. I tried to recover, but it was too late, the guests were in hysterics. Fortunately, my wife is incredibly forgiving, but my family never fails to remind of my poetic triumph.
So, that result notwithstanding….Today, I want to tell you about 3 wonders (or ideas) that will hopefully figure into your personal and professional lives. Be on the lookout for these. I’ve been fortunate to discover how prominently they’ve figured into my life. The first is the wonder of dissatisfaction, the second is the wonder of serendipity, and the third is the wonder of persistence.
First, dissatisfaction. Job satisfaction is at the core of the American work experience…and it probably figured into how many of us chose our majors. How many of you ever looked at a list of professions ranked by the highest rate of job satisfaction? At face value, there’s nothing wrong with being satisfied at your job. A perhaps more pertinent question, however, is whether we’re missing something by being overly satisfied. A recent study of employees at a manufacturing company revealed an interesting, but counterintuitive result. The study authors separately interviewed plant workers and the plant managers and didn’t tell them why they were conducting the study. The surprising result of the study was this: workers who expressed job dissatisfaction were much more likely to be recognized by the management as contributors of “creative solutions” or “fresh ideas.” In other words, that disgruntled co-worker in the next cubicle over is more likely to be the one who comes up with a better mousetrap. This has implications for how we do science.
In a recent issue of the British magazine New Scientist, it was suggested that “by overvaluing people who toe the party line, we may be killing creativity in the sciences.” So, by preaching the gospel of job satisfaction are we suppressing creative forces that arise from people who see the world differently? One of the primary reasons for promoting a diverse student body or workforce is to encourage diversity of thought…and it is critical that we in the sciences realize that this argument is not limited to the arts and humanities. So, don’t hesitate to question established common practices and assumptions. And, importantly, try to listen to others who do the same. I realize this can sometimes be a challenge, because there’s a subtle difference between a colleague or peer who’s constructively disgruntled and one who’s “pain-in-the-you-know-what” disgruntled. I learned about the wonders of dissatisfaction from a fellow student in graduate school. When this student, who is now a dear friend, first arrived on campus, I was floored by his polite, but highly confrontational style in seminars and lectures. With his presence, every classroom felt like it’d been transformed into a courtroom! With time, however, I realized that he intended no malice, but simply enjoyed pursuing ideas in a very open atmosphere. As a mild-mannered Lutheran from Minnesota, it took awhile for me to get used to the notion of knock-down drag out discussions about science. Now, that may sound surprising because you’d think I’d be more adaptable given that I grew up thinking there was nothing wrong with eating lutefisk on every festive occasion. Nonetheless, with time I discovered that many of those graduate school discussions inspired by dissatisfaction have very much shaped me as a scientist.
Next, I want to say a few words about the wonder of serendipity. No recipe or game plan exists for generating insights about our natural world. For students working on graduate theses or undergraduate research projects, this realization can be very unsettling! Particularly when they’re expected to bring a project to completion within a specific time frame. The unknowns in science can thus invoke as much fear as they do inspiration. Two of my favorite science quotes come from really smart people who realized that discovery follows no pre-defined path. The great French chemist Louis Pasteur said “Chance favors the prepared mind.” In a similar vein, biochemist and renowned science fiction writer Isaac Asimov said “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!', but 'That's funny…'” These brilliant thinkers appreciated the surprises that arise in science and emphasized the importance of interrogating on-going work and being engaged in the process. In fact, most scientists can recount tales of how an unanticipated observation led them to an interesting discovery.
Perhaps my favorite personal example of serendipitous research comes from one of my first Masters students. During one of our weekly research discussions, Molly expressed an interest in studying the effects of fire on landscapes. I confessed to her that I had never worked on anything fire-related but was willing to learn through her. Well, it didn’t take long for a key opportunity to arise. A few months after our initial conversation, one of our study areas in the Oregon Coast Range burned (and I know what you’re thinking…”serendipity, my butt”). Well, after the burn, the site looked like a post-apocalyptic battlefield…this was something I had never imagined, but there it was. Molly’s work showed the immense role of fire in this landscape…but her most critical insights had yet to materialize… So, here’s a brief lesson in geomorphology: In Southern California, intense fire can have the effect of making the upper half inch or so of soil become highly impermeable. During subsequent rainfall events, water can’t soak into the ground. Instead, the water runs across the terrain, collecting loose soil particles and cascading downslope into devastating “debris torrents”. These ‘torrents’ can make life dangerous for celebrities (or anyone else) living adjacent to recently burned, steep slopes. This Southern California “fire-flood” response had never been reported in Western Oregon. Molly saw an opportunity. Unbeknownst to me, she went out immediately after the first few rainfall events that fall and dug soil pits at the recently burned site. The pits allowed her to determine whether the soils were impermeable and the answer was yes, but with an important caveat. The impermeable layer was not continuous; there were large pockets of highly permeable soil and rainfall during those early storms had ample opportunity to infiltrate… no debris torrents occurred. Thankfully, this is another situation in which Oregon does not follow California’s lead! Fortunately, Molly’s clear thinking and engaged mindset enabled her to take advantage of the rare opportunity. As for me, I know what you’re thinking… this discovery had less to do with serendipity than having students that are smarter than me…and you’d be right. More generally, though, the wonder of serendipity comes from the comfort that successful insights are often unscripted! I cherish the notion that I don’t have to brilliant to have success in science….BUT I do have to remain engaged and that is the common thread of those quotes by Pasteur and Asimov. The wonder of serendipity, though, extends beyond the realm of scientific pursuit. Stay engaged in your lives and you’re sure to find out.
Finally, a few words on the wonder of persistence. There’s nothing counterintuitive about this one and I’m certain that all of you have had to demonstrate persistence to get where you are today so I don’t want to belabor the point. I do, however, want to implore that you don’t undervalue the importance of persistence. Upcoming job hunts will require it. Successful personal relationships will demand it. And you’ll live longer for it. When teaching large lecture classes at an institution like UO, we professors are sometimes approached by…well, shall, we say “non-traditional” students who request to attend lectures even though they’re not officially enrolled. These students are memorable, not only because they tend to harbor quite a few more gray hairs than typical freshmen and sophomores, but because they often sit near the front of the lecture hall, listen intently, and ask informed questions.
Well, a few years ago, one of these students named Frank asked me if he could sit-in on my Environmental Geology course. I said “yes, by all means” as I typically do. True to form, Frank was a model student. Sometimes he’d stay after class to chat with me, always waiting until after the paying students got their turn. During one of these after-class chats, I noticed subtle tremors in Frank’s hands as we chatted about landslides in the South hills of Eugene. I didn’t mention it, but later in the conversation, he told me of his diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease. He was on a mission to fight the disease and recent research suggested that keeping your mind sharp could slow its progress. I’m happy to report that Frank pops by my office from time-to-time to ask about other courses he might audit. Recently, though, he came by with a rock identification question. Now, my colleagues will laugh at this because I’m probably the last person in our department that you’d want to turn to for such a task. But, with these particular rocks, I felt like I had a solid footing. After identifying the rock samples, I asked Frank about his interest in the rocks, he told me that he volunteers several times a week at a nearby elementary school to help students with reading. He brings everyday objects from his garage, yard, and elsewhere to jumpstart their thinking and then he helps them put pen to paper. I was floored. Not content to absorb information and engage only his own mind, Frank has been sharing that spirit of learning and discovery. His persistence has been an inspiration to me.
So, to briefly summarize these 3 wonders: 1. Dissatisfaction: Embrace your inner grouch or at least be open-minded to the one in the next cubicle over. 2. Serendipity: Stay engaged with life because you never know when you’ll stumble onto something great or interesting. 3. Persistence: Stay involved. Because really, what else are you going to do? Twitter and Facebook are going to get old after awhile.
A final note to you graduates: Congratulations and don’t forget to thank your family and friends for helping you get to this day. They’re so proud of you, more than you realize. It’s been an honor to be part of this glorious day. Congratulations to the class of 2009 and Go Ducks!
Department of Geological Sciences • 1272 University of Oregon • Eugene, OR 97403 • Phone: 541-346-4573 • Fax: 541-346-4692