UBC Convocation
Chan Centre for the Performing Arts
4:00pm, May 29, 2000
Robert Mundell

Chancellor, President Piper, Honored Guests, Graduands, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I want to thank you for stopping the applause. It's impossible for me to look humble for any extended period of time!

Let me now start by saying what a great pleasure it is for me to be back at UBC, the scene of my undergraduate days, and my first regular teaching position. It does not seem like such a long time ago that I myself graduated. But actually it was in 1953. What was the main difference between my world then and our world today? I can sum it up in a nutshell: the Canadian dollar was then worth $1.04 American; now it is 65 cents!

There were other differences. There was the Cold War to contend with. And now there is the New Economy, created by the computerized world that is converging the Internet, television and cellular-phone technology. The Canadian intellectual, Marshall McLuhan, wrote about the "extensions of man" and how he would have loved the IT revolution! This is an extension of man's brain! It is resulting in productivity improvements and cost-savings in firms, households, institutions and individuals.

UBC has also changed greatly, to become one of the premier institutions of learning in Canada. At the time I graduated, UBC did not have then a large economics department, but it was a good one, with such inspiring teachers as Joseph Crumb, Stuart Jamieson, Hans Ronimois and Robert Clark. When I returned later to teach in 1956-57, I was happy to become friends with new colleagues like John Deutsch, Tony Scott, Ron Shearer and Bob Will. I remember also memorable courses in Political Science from Dean Angus, in English from Earle Birney, and in Slavonic Studies from William J. Rose.

I want to say also how honored I am to be asked to address you students in this convocation, representing such diverse fields as agriculture, landscape architecture, nutrition, hygiene, resource management and environmental studies. I congratulate you all on your graduation. As economists would say, your degree confirms and acknowledges a big jump in your "human capital" over the course of the past few years. I wish you every success in your journey ahead.

I have two pieces of advice for you, both related to the way you confront a 21 St century which will be dominated, as in our recent past, by the breakneck speed of technological change.

The first relates to your past--and yes, your future--as students. You entered these halls of learning on a quest for knowledge and a journey of self-discovery. You should not make too great a distinction between what you have accomplished here and what you can hope to accomplish in the future. Make your future also a quest for knowledge and self-discovery! Your first immediate challenge will be to relate turn your theoretical tools into practical use. You will . want to integrate the tools and theories you've worked hard to acquire with the tasks and exigencies of practical and professional life. Your bread and butter will depend on your ability to bridge this gap, to make this convergence.

But you must also plan for the rapidly-changing and far-off future when your theories and tools will have become the victim of technological obsolescence. What kind of doctor would you be if you didn't keep up with new developments in medical technology? What kind of an architect or farmer would you be if you didn't keep up new ideas in designing barns or organization of the way of life of the animals inside them?

I hope you will devote part of your time each week to exploring and new theories and increasing your repertoire. In a world of rapid change you must go on learning. Make your world your private university. Don't be afraid to go to your grave a student! I certainly will!

My second piece of advice is to make your life an adventure. You don't always have to follow the well-worn beaten path. Don't be afraid to seek out new and vivid paths, to go where no one has gone before-as in the Star Trek preamble. To innovate, to stand alone, to do things your own way.

Let me tell a little story about this. I told this story at the Nobel Prize banquet in Stockholm last December 10. The atmosphere was full of glitter. King Gustav and Queen Sylvia were of course the most prominent among the 1300 banquet guests-all in evening gowns and white tie and tails, eating off gold-plated dinner settings and masses of candles. There were also of course we Nobel laureates and our spouses.

Each prize is asked to address the illustrious gathering for two minutes. My speech was to come last. This is because the Nobel in Economics was created after the others--not in 1899 but in 1969-- to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Central Bank of Sweden, the Riksbank, the oldest central bank in the world, founded in 1669, a quarter century before the founding of the Bank of England.

My speech coming last was significant in two respects. First of all, it was the last Nobel speech of the year, of the century and the millennium. Second, after three hours of feasting, most of the audience-and some of the speakers--were well on their way to being drunk!

I told this story: When I was at UBC I fell in love with economic theory and made it my career. It was the right choice for me. I then got a teaching fellowship to do graduate work at the University of Washington in Seattle. This was at that time a good place in economics, it had a future Nobel Prize winner, and I learned a lot. But it was not the best place for me to complete my Ph.D. I needed to go to one of the top universities. Only one problem. I had no money! So I went to three of my professors for their advice.

One professor, a very good young mathematical economist and a Canadian, said: "Go to the place that offers you the best fellowship! I can get you a fellowship at Cornell."

A second, the head of the department, said: "Go to the best place and borrow whatever money you need!"

A third, a very good macroeconomist, said: "Marry a rich girl and let her finance the rest of your education!"

As it turned out, I didn't find a rich girl that was willing to marry me, so I took the second professor's advice. I went to the best place - then MIT-and borrowed the extra money I needed.

I found out later that each one of the professors had advised me to do exactly what they did! The Canadian had gone to Cornell; the head of the department had borrowed; and the macroeconomist had married a wealthy heiress who put him through his graduate studies!

I have a two-and-a-half-year-old son whose second birthday we celebrated in Stockholm. His picture was in all the morning papers the next day because he reached out and kissed the hand of Queen Sylvia, and this close to midnight! So he upstaged me in Stockholm!

But I'm not going to get even with him by giving him wrong advice. I'm not going to advise him, as my three professors did me, to do what I did. I want him to do things his own way. I want him to be able to say, in the words of another Canadian, Paul Anka:

I've loved and laughed and cried,
I've had my fill, my share of losing.
But then, when tears subside I find it all so amusing.
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way.
Oh no, oh no not me I did it my way.