Today is a major life inflection point for you, the 2007 graduates of the Colorado School of Mines. Looking back 25 or 50 years from now, it will seem even more important to you than it does today. The life you will live and the success you will achieve will be greatly influenced by your years here at Mines.
You chose well when you decided to come here. It is a first rate institution, with a well earned, world wide reputation. Its graduates not only create wealth (and as you know, are well compensated), but they make the world a better place. They create clean water projects, develop alternative energy, build low energy housing, and are responsible or many other earth friendly things.
Although the focus here is on engineering and applied sciences, you have also learned critical thinking and problem solving. So as I have gotten around the country and around the world, I keep coming across Mines graduates in almost every imaginable place and profession. I recently came across a medical doctor who was a Mines graduate. I might add that his fierce loyalty was to Mines, not to his medical school.
There are people who believe that you learn more from your peers in the class than you do in the classroom. I am not one of those, though I'll admit the peer environment is really importat. On that score too, you ahve done well. Your classmates, many of whom will be your friends for life, are smart, with an average SAT score of 1260 and they have a work ethic. The student body is quite international, with students from 43 countries, which is quite an advantage these days. My only criticism is that at 23%, you need more women.
With a degree from the School of Mines, you are exceptionally well prepared for the rest of your life. Life will take many twists and turns and there will be surprises, some of them big surprises. As I look back over the well more than 50 years since my own graduation, I am astonished at how things turned out. In my wildest imagination, or in my parents' imagination for that matter, we couldn't have guessed the outcomes. This past week I was discussing what I planned to say in my remarks today with Bill Bowen, who was for 16 years President of Princeton.
He gave me a great quote for this point in my speech. It is by Aaron Lemonick, who said, "Life is what happens to you when you are planning something else."
In looking back now over these many years, I have learned a few other things that I think might be useful to you. I have a few suggestions - just a few - on how to make your life not only a success, but a joy. Finding joy in life doesn't have so much to do with what you know. It's about values and character. Let me tell you about a personal experience.
When I graduated from business schol, I looked around at my classmates and divided them into two categories - those that I would like to work with and those that I wouldn't. The latter group, I called the snakes. I was really dividing them up according to my assessment of their character. I wanted to work with people of integrity, loyalty, and honesty - because I valued those wualities even more than knowledge and skill. I decided that I would watch my classmates over the years to see how they turned out.
Frankly, the early years were a big surprise. The snakes were winning hands down. I worried that maybe I'd gotten life figured out all wrong. Maybe this integrity and caring stuff was for the birds. But over time, the tide began to turn. Now, more than 50 years later the good guys are winning by a huge margin and most of the snakes have been run over.
You see, it's a real advantage to be a snake if people don't know you are one, but, sooner or later, they figure it out. And once they have, it's over. You can never change their minds. Also, I've noticed that it isn't much fun being a snake.
There's a reason why caring people with integrity, loyalty, and honesty succeed. To succeed, any organization, whether a business organization or any other kind, must have teamwork. Real teamwork, requires people who trust one another and care about one another.
In short, you have to be trustworthy. If everybody's just in it for their own fame or fortune, I guarantee you that the organization will be a loser. Over the course of history, mercenaries have never won a war. You have to believe.
And what is true of organizational behavior and success is equally true of societies as a whole. Moral decline recedes economic and social decline. A society of snakes can't function over the long haul, because people are not meant to be selfish, solitary units. To survive and flourish people need to - and must - rely on each other. Snakes can't do that. And we know a society of snakes certainly is no fun.
Now, what I'm telling you, most of you know already. Inf act, the human race has known these truths for a very long time. We in the West have the Golden Rule, which tells us to do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Accross the globe, Confucius said not to do unto others what we would not have them do unto us. Pretty much the same idea, with a cultural twist. We've known these things for thousands of years. Sometimes we just forget them.
I remind you of them today because today begins the real test of your life and person. Today marks the beginning of what you've prepared for all these years. And with an education from the School of Mines, you are ready.
Now you jus tneed to make two promises to yourself.
First, that you will never, ever, under any circumstances, compromise your personal integrity.
And, second, that you will find a life purpose, if you haven't already, that goes beyond yoruself. It can be to grow a fine family, improve the environment, support a cause or serve your God. I can tell you, after many years of personal experience and observation, that a self-centered, selfish life isn't very satisfying or rewarding.
So, just do these two things: Maintain your personal integrity, no matter what. And have a life purpose that goes beyond yourself.
You will be successful.
You will feel fulfilled.
And you'll have a great time, which is very important.