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Remarks

Photo of Arden Bement

Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr.
Director
National Science Foundation
Biography

"From Sorcerer's Apprentice to Wizard of Change"
Commencement Address
Colorado School of Mines
December 17, 2004

President Trefny, First Lady of Mines, Sharon, trustees, faculty and staff, distinguished guests, friends and loving families, and most important, Colorado School of Mines graduates. It is good to be home. Thank you so much for welcoming me back to Mines. I am honored and delighted to share this celebration with you.

A society that does not celebrate the milestones of its young and revel in their accomplishments has surely surrendered a piece of its communal heart. So, to you, graduates of 2004, I offer my heartfelt congratulations--for your intellectual achievements, for persevering in this journey, and for believing in yourselves and your future as engineers and leaders.

I know that my remarks stand between you and the "reveling" that soon will follow. So I will follow the lead of Henry VIII, who said to each of his wives, "Don't worry, I won't keep you long."

This is your day to celebrate your success. It's my job to provide something useful for the unknown ahead and to be concise about it. You may wonder, then, why I have titled my remarks "From Sorcerer's Apprentice to Wizard of Change."

This commencement marks a momentous transition in your lives. You are about to enter a complex and challenging world to assume new positions of trust and responsibility. Today you will shed the robes of an apprentice and launch your career as a wizard.

Today's wizards, of course, bear little resemblance to those of legend. There is nothing magical about endeavor and accomplishment. But the comparison is apt in one respect. You have the power to change the world.

To change the world, you will first need to master change--to shape and guide it--in order to create the future that you desire. In short, you must become wizards of change.

You may ask why the world needs change wizards. A primary reason is the combined power of science and engineering, a force that is transforming our everyday lives.

Although change is an enduring feature of human experience, the high velocity change that distinguishes our 21st Century world is unparalleled in human history. We have truly crossed a threshold into a new era of accelerating change, fueled by explosive growth in new knowledge and rapid technological innovation.

Our new information and communication technologies have expanded these transformations to the global scale, generating new connections in research, education and enterprise. As we move toward increasing international cooperation, we will uncover a host of fresh opportunities to address complex and longstanding problems, to improve the quality of life worldwide and to ensure a sustainable future.

Clearly, these are exhilarating times for engineers and scientists. They are assuming an increasingly vital role as society's agents of change. You will find them at every juncture along the path, from fundamental research to technological innovation, from product design to performance standards, from the transfer of technology to the marketplace and to the management of technology.

Engineers will be particularly central to these roles since they traditionally operate at the interfaces among technology, society and the economy. It should come as no surprise that the majority of today's Fortune 500 CEOs were trained as engineers.

Now, if you take a minute to think about your educational experience at Mines, you will begin to see how well equipped you are to master change. You are familiar with the frontiers of discovery and new technological concepts. You have the analytical skills to solve problems and understand and manage risk. You can plan, organize, design, and implement. And that's only for starters. I am sure you will add to the list.

The power that comes with the broadening role of scientists and engineers in society also brings greater challenges and responsibilities. Certainly, there will be increasingly high expectations for performance. But that comes with the territory when you aim to be a wizard.

More importantly, there will be increasing expectations for scientists and engineers to pay due heed to social norms and ethical behavior. That means greater attention to the safety and reliability of products and services, and deeper consideration of sustainability. As technology pervades our lives and societies in novel ways, we have a responsibility to understand and guard against unexpected and unintended consequences. The key is to glean the potential while avoiding the pitfalls.

For these reasons and more, we should encourage the participation of social scientists in interdisciplinary research teams and corporate marketing and business teams.

I have sketched only a few of the trends and issues you may encounter in the years ahead. Now I intend to keep the promise I made earlier to give you something useful--some rules of practical wizardry. As you might expect, I have my own favorites.

Here is the first rule of practical wizardry: Anticipate and embrace change as a natural part of living.

I am reminded here of the wisdom of Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman and social philosopher. "In times of change," he said, "learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists."

Learning is hard, but essential, work. All of us will encounter steeper and steeper learning curves as the already rapid pace of discovery speeds even further. Most of us require a regimen--a day-in and day-out commitment to seek new insights and understanding. Maintain a thirst for new knowledge and this work will become a labor of love.

When you embrace change, you adopt a path of thinking where constant filtering and extrapolation bring patterns, trends, and shifts to the forefront. You are alert to subtle cues in the environment and also models gleaned from our collective experience.

These routines will help you anticipate change. And if you can anticipate change, then you can prepare for it and seize the opportunities that a turbulent world constantly churns to the surface. Anticipating change is vital because it gives you the ability to guide the direction of change and shape its outcomes.

If engineers and scientists take on the task of anticipating change, and if they do their task well, we will move steadily into a genuine future of our own creation.

But to do so, you will need to practice the second rule of wizardry: Be a leader.

Leaders have a vision of the future and the capacity to create that future no matter what obstacles block the way. Even so, like everything else, the meaning of leadership is changing. Collaboration and teamwork are a hallmark of the 21st Century. We are rapidly moving from mere interdependence to what some researchers have called "mutual provenance"--that is, fluid and dynamic cooperation.

The Danish playwright Henrik Ibsen got it just right when he said, "A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm." Being a leader in our complex world requires this flexibility and versatility--that is, knowing when to take the helm and when to haul the sheets.

So, develop and maintain a broad network of colleagues and role models who can inspire and motivate you--because no matter what expertise you may have or what position you may hold, you will not be the leader all of the time.

A variety of perspectives adds enormous strength to any enterprise. Working with others in interdisciplinary and international collaborations is not only enriching, it is increasingly the only way to get the job done. Broaden your cultural outlook and experiences, and you will feel at home in any team.

Finally, be imaginative about your career choices. Climbing ladders may not get you to the top faster, since someone will always be on the rung above you. Spirals and tangents, on the other hand, may lead you to frontiers as yet unexplored.

That brings me to the third and final rule of practical wizardry: do the right thing.

The quest for knowledge develops our capabilities to create the future, and leadership skills empower us to get the job done. But only a commitment to doing the right thing can help us make choices about what ends to seek.

Develop a strong personal code of ethical behavior and practice it in every aspect of your lives. As the French novelist and playwright Victor Hugo puts it, "Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves," but "keep intact your roots."

In conclusion, I remember my own years at Mines with abiding gratitude. My crusher superintendent at the Climax molybdenum mine, Prentice Cain, introduced me to Mines. I was familiar with universities and colleges, but not schools of mines! "If you can meet the challenge of Mines," he told me, "then you will be able to meet any challenge in life." Within a week on campus I made my first best friend, Chuck Baroch, and met his sister, Mary, who soon became my wife. Therefore, almost immediately I was well prepared to begin my career.

I tell you this because opportunities do not just happen--people who have faith in you and want you to succeed will shape them. You will find that establishing a network of such people is essential to your future success. However, you must also be willing to prepare yourself for new opportunities and accept the risks they bring. For it is through new opportunities that you will continue to learn and ascend the steep slope of each new learning curve. As Yogi Berra said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it!"

Your years at the Colorado School of Mines have been excellent preparation for living in this tumultuous, yet so promising, century. They have given you a taste for excellence and the tools to practice it in your lives.

In honoring each of you today, we also honor the future. We reaffirm our trust in your capable leadership and in your stewardship in the years ahead. Be curious, be compassionate, and be committed. There is much to accomplish. You will not lack for challenges, for excitement, or for gratification and I know that you will change the world.

Congratulations and great good luck.

 

 

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