Address to Applied Science Graduates, UBC, May 29, 2000
by John O. Wheeler

Mister Chancellor, Madam President, honoured guests, and fellow graduates:

First of all, I am greatly honoured by this special recognition by my alma mater. I am also grateful for the privilege of addressing you, Applied Science graduates, who have already met many challenges to qualify for your degrees. For this I congratulate you.

During my career I also met many challenges. Perhaps there are lessons I can pass on?

I come from a line of surveyors, naturalists, and mountaineers so it was not surprising that I became a geologist who wanted to join the Geological Survey of Canada. However, there was a hitch. To join the Survey I had to have a Ph.D. Now, there was a challenge - one that had to be met before I could reach my cherished goal.

I joined the Geological Survey in the early fifties at the start of the golden age of bedrock mapping that completed the geological reconnaissance of Canada in 30 years.

My contribution to this remarkable achievement was 20 years of mapping in the Cordillera, that is, the mountains of western Canada - work I thoroughly enjoyed. I relished the physical challenge of the mountains as well as their beauty, although later the intellectual challenge of understanding the geology became paramount. It was an exciting time as we got caught up in the spirit of Rudyard Kipling's exhortation: "Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges". Thus the geological architecture of the Cordilleran Ranges was pieced together by a band of talented and enthusiastic colleagues in a climate of great excitement and synergy. We gained much satisfaction from performing a public service as our maps and reports helped the mineral industry to make discoveries, many of which became mines.

In the seventies I was persuaded to move to Ottawa to become a manager. -. This I did with mixed feelings. I hated to give up the field work I so enjoyed, besides which, I left unfinished work which others had to complete. But I had a duty to give something back to the Survey which had provided me with such enjoyable employment. Eventually, I became Chief Geologist, responsible for the scientific program which was now more diversified than formerly. This was a huge challenge that caused me to grow both as a scientist and as a person. My highest priority was to make personal contact with the scientists in the field, all across Canada. We got to know each other and I learned about their work and their discoveries. The knowledge gained was of great value in the eighties when I returned to Vancouver to my last challenge as General Editor of the new 8-volume edition of the Geology of Canada for which I prepared large regional and national maps.

Now, what lessons can I pass on to you graduates as you embark on your careers? My hope is that you will find work that you enjoy. If you do you will be better at it and be more productive. Furthermore, if you are as fortunate as I was to have talented and stimulating colleagues then that will be a huge bonus.

Be. the best that you can be. If you are good at what you do then the chances are that rewards will come. But don't be afraid to continue on to an advanced degree or to upgrade your skills. Make sure you can express yourself clearly and unambiguously. Higher qualifications and improved skills lead to fresh opportunities.

You may become managers. My advice is don't get marooned behind a desk. Get out and visit your engineers and scientists in the field and in the labs. It will pay off in more effective communication and in better morale and esprit de corps.

Finally, I wish you success in your careers and hope that you will get great satisfaction from finding new and better ways of doing things that will make our world a better place.

As the UBC motto says - Tuum Est - It's up to you.