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Undergraduate Valedictorian James Pape on His Experience at the Jackson School

The Jackson School of Geosciences Commencement Ceremony and Reception was held on Saturday, May 18.
The Jackson School of Geosciences Commencement Ceremony and Reception was held on Saturday, May 18.

A couple of years ago, the University of Texas adopted a new slogan. I’m sure more than a few of you probably remember the ad that appeared during UT football games with the resonant voice of Walter Cronkite boldly declaring: “what starts here changes the world.” Admittedly, my first thought upon hearing the new slogan was, “man, that seems a little grandiose.” I mean, really, I didn’t come to college to change the world. I came to college to better myself, to get an education, and to open the doors to future opportunities, but I certainly never had plans to change the world. However, today, as I look out at my fellow graduates, I believe that UT’s motto may not be quite as grandiose as I first thought.

Looking back on my experiences as a college student, I realize that, in the last four years, I got much more than just an education. I’ve had a lot of good times, and a few rough ones. I’ve made some great friends. I’ve been exposed to many viewpoints and ideas, and, although my parents might disagree, in a lot of ways, I think I’ve grown up. And so, returning to UT’s motto with a little more perspective, I would argue that what starts here really can change the world.

Certainly, as earth scientists, we are more acutely aware than most about how the world can change. To study geology is to study a changing world on the grandest scale possible. Only a geologist would describe something that happened a million years ago as “recent,” and on such a vast time frame, mountain ranges rise and fall, ice sheets form and melt away, and even the continents themselves travel around the globe. Now, it would probably be stretching things just a little to say that the graduating class of ’08 will have the power to alter the course of plate tectonics, but I don’t think it would be much of a stretch at all to say that we might be able to discover a little bit more about how plate tectonics work. And, I truly believe, that by developing our understanding of how the world works, we can change it for the better.

As graduates from the Jackson School of Geosciences, we have developed skills that are increasingly demanded by numerous sectors of society. Geologists and geophysicists are at the forefront of meeting the worlds ever-expanding energy needs. Hydrologists and geochemists face the task of managing increasingly scarce water resources, and tackling the remediation of environmentally hazardous sites. Researchers in a myriad of disciplines advance our understanding of a diverse array of topics ranging from the environment to the workings of Earth’s core, and even processes occurring on planets beyond our own. In these ways and many others, geoscientists make an impact upon the world.

We, the graduates of 2008, are preparing to go out into a world that needs our talents today more so than ever before, and we will certainly have an impact on the future. The choices we make will determine what that impact will be.

To conclude, I would like to say congratulations to my fellow graduates! Over the last four years, I’ve had the privilege to call many of you my friends, and I have no doubt that all of you will find success in your future endeavors. The perseverance and integrity that characterize each of you make me confident that what we’ve started here really can change the world, and change it for the better. Thank you!