May 14, 2010: James Mulva, "Passing the Torch of Responsibility"

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May 14, 2010: James Mulva, "Passing the Torch of Responsibility"

Graduates, students and alumni, ladies and gentlemen, thank you sincerely for the honor of speaking today.

I knew this would be a special occasion when I saw the big M up on the mountain. Someone said that you carried those rocks up there, and that it stood for Mulva. Actually, I do know it was there long before I came along.

In preparing for this day, we did some research on the School of Mines. It’s amazing what you can find online. We learned there was a “Beer of the Week” for last month’s E-Days. The winner was Lost Lake beer, from my home state of Wisconsin. That told us that Orediggers value the finer things in life.

We learned that you use 40 sticks of real dynamite in your annual fireworks show. Now that’s technology.

Then we noted that the Huffington Post – in response to Playboy’s Top 10 Party Schools – named their own Top 10 Anti-Party Schools. Places to curl up for a weekend with a glass of milk and a stack of homework. Guess who ranks number 9.

And finally, the school newspaper recognizes a “Geek of the Week” – and it’s considered an honor. These last two findings told us that I would fit right in.

Of course, we already knew plenty about Mines. Like the quality of its faculty and programs, and graduates. In fact, ConocoPhillips has more than 150 Mines alumni working throughout the world. We recruit here, provide scholarships and internships, fund research, support the minority engineering program, and are contributing to the new Marquez Hall. We are long-time friends.

Now, to today’s commencement. In the years ahead, you graduates will remember it as one of the half-dozen major milestones in your lives. It marks a transition. You’re leaving the academic world you’ve known since age 5, and entering a new arena. One that is full of challenge and opportunity.

Your parents and loved ones know this. You can see their pride in what you have achieved and their excitement at what lies ahead for you. So let’s take a moment to recognize what you have done. And then to acknowledge the torch of responsibility that today passes into your hands.

You may not realize it, but this place says a lot about you. You willingly chose one of the most selective, challenging universities anywhere. Of nine who apply, one gets in. Coming here was perhaps the first major independent decision of your life. As a result of that choice, your achievements, your experiences outside the classroom and the friends you made, you will remember these as some of the best years of your lives.

You carried your rock up that mountain, like 102 classes before you. What symbolism. In Greek mythology, King Sisyphus displeased the gods. As punishment, he was condemned to push a huge rock up a hill, only to see it roll back down, for eternity.

Well, you’ve already beaten a “Sisyphian Challenge.” You made it up the mountain with your rock. Four years later, you brought it back down, making room for others to follow. You succeeded in this great university. You made your mark.

The future will bring new challenges. Different rocks to roll up the hill. And you will succeed again, thanks to what you learned here, and your own initiative.

Take a moment to look at the people around you. You competed against them, befriended them, and served as teammates with them. You worked together on research projects, sports teams, humanitarian engineering programs, and even on pulling the ore cart to the state capital. Some of them will be friends for life. Some will be co-workers. A few, perhaps significant others.

These people, and the Mines faculty, are the beginning of your network. You will turn to them often for moral support, information, job contacts and fun. You have learned that none of us is truly alone. In fact, the social scientists say that the people we choose as friends are enormously important to a happy life. Here again, you’ve probably made good choices.

Now, let’s look to our audience – your parents and the other loved ones who are here today. Let’s stop to thank those who have helped you pursue your dreams. All their hopes go with you, and society feels the same way. You represent our best and brightest – our future.

For there is indeed a torch to be passed along. Every generation faces defining challenges.
For the “Greatest Generation,” they were the Depression, World War II, and restoring world prosperity.

For we “Baby Boomers” and successive generations, it was working to bring equality to all, exploring space, transitioning to the computer age and becoming knowledge workers.

What defining generational challenges will you face? Perhaps solving unemployment. Maintaining our country’s prosperity in a competitive world. Meeting the related energy, environmental and climate challenges. Raising living standards in the developing world.
Addressing the looming water crisis. The potential challenges are many.

But as you have learned, never underestimate the power of human ingenuity and technology. Based on your job acceptances, we know where some of you are going.
To energy, mining, manufacturing, construction, engineering, computer technology, consulting, research and others. You will bring fresh ideas to all these fields.

Many of you are joining oil and gas companies, utilities or related service firms. Your mission will be delivering the energy that powers modern life. Let’s focus on that as an example.

It would be easy to assume that we are in a new energy paradigm. That the fundamentals are changing. But in fact, many of tomorrow’s challenges are the same ones we faced in the past.

For example, in the early 1970s, after college, I served in the U.S. Navy in the Middle East. I learned about its strategic importance, its energy resources, and the growing world demand for energy. I wanted to be part of it all, so I joined Phillips Petroleum. Within months, Middle Eastern oil was embargoed. Oil prices quadrupled. It was the first great energy crisis. The U.S. became aware of its supply vulnerability. Detroit’s golden age ended. And the rest is history.

Many thought then that the age of oil was over. That an era of limits had begun. We even saw bright young people leave our industry. They were convinced that our end was approaching, and they wanted a more assured future.

But look at what happened during the nearly 40 years since. World population has grown 70%. Energy demand is up 90%. But despite the gloomy predictions, the industry has managed to supply it, albeit with a few bumps in the road.

We have done it thanks to fossil fuels – oil, natural gas and coal. Even today, they are still the foundation of energy supply. In fact, world energy reserves are at their highest in history. Particularly natural gas, thanks to the shale gas revolution here in the U.S. Further, ConocoPhillips does not believe in peak oil. It’s more a question of which energy sources society chooses to use. And which sources that people like you will bring to perfection, both technologically and environmentally.

So let’s look ahead 40 years – the span of your careers. By 2050, it will be a different world, with 9.2 billion people, 35% more than today. It will need more energy, not less, despite higher efficiency and conservation. Today, hundreds of millions of people in the developing world are awaiting their first electricity. By then, they will have it. In the wealthy countries, many people will drive electric cars. Fleet vehicles – trucks, buses and trains – will use natural gas. Housing will use active and passive solar power.
There will be vast wind farms. And nuclear power.

We expect technological advances that would seem inconceivable today. And you will help make them possible.

You probably already know that fossil fuels must keep carrying much of the load. The renewable sources cannot replace them anytime soon. It will take many decades to build the entirely new infrastructure that would be required. Meanwhile, the flow of energy must continue in order to enable economic growth, job creation and human progress.
This is the torch of responsibility that passes to those of you entering the energy industry.

Many of you will spend your careers supplying the natural gas that heats homes and generates electricity. It’s clean, abundant and available at reasonable cost. You will help make its production more national in scope. For example, thanks to shale gas, states like New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and others will become major producers.

Some of you will drive research forward on natural gas hydrates. One day, these could offer untold centuries of supply.

You may be in the global liquefied natural gas business. In this, tankers move stranded supplies to new markets, thus spreading economic prosperity.

Some of you may develop cleaner ways to use coal. Or to use oil as a transportation fuel where alternatives are impractical. You may help develop Colorado’s huge shale oil deposits. As well as Canada’s oil sands.

Those of you entering the refining sector will help produce clean fuels from these unconventional crude oils. Others will develop new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – including carbon capture and sequestration.

There are lifetimes of challenge, opportunity and fulfillment awaiting you, regardless of what field you enter. According to the social scientists I mentioned earlier, another key to happiness is having the right job. Choose your work carefully. Do what you enjoy. Do it well, and the financial part will take care of itself. You may rest assured of long and rewarding careers. Your work will be vital to society. You will make a difference.

In closing, I’ll repeat something that John F. Kennedy – the president of my youth – once said. “Of those to whom much is given, much is required.” He recognized that in his wealth, education and station in life, he was fortunate. And he believed in generational responsibility.

One of our most joyous tasks at ConocoPhillips is helping the less fortunate. We made $80 million in charitable and community investments last year. And perhaps more important is what our employees at all levels did. They devoted tens of thousands of hours of personal time to charitable and civic activities. Support of others – not just friends and family, but those in need – is what life is all about. Do this well, and it too will contribute to your own success and happiness.

In a few minutes you will step forward to accept your bachelor’s degree, your masters or PhD – as well as that torch of responsibility. You have already achieved a great deal. But despite all that you have done and the great times you have had, this is only the beginning.
The best is yet to come.

Our hearty congratulations to the Class of 2010. Orediggers forever.

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