David Winfield Killam
Following is the text of Mr. Killam's Commencement Speech:
I am honored to give this address today, and I know each one of you has studied diligently to earn your degree. Congratulations on the completion of your degree. I do not intend to lay out a formula or a path to success because I do not have one. What I would like to do is discuss the successes and difficulties that each one of you will face in your life, and I would like to illustrate this with a family story about my father.
Some years ago, my father belonged to an oil and gas industry group called the All-American Wildcatters. This group of CEO’s of major and independent oil and gas exploration companies met for one weekend each year. At the meeting one member would recount each member’s mistakes during the previous year, and this would lead to great laughter, but the most important award was reserved for the one member who had committed the “Biggest Foul Up.” The ““BFU”” award (now use your imagination) was given to my father for failing to recognize the great opportunity which happened when a confluence of rising commodity prices, better technology and a new tight gas basin appeared in our backyard. The South Laredo Lobo play became a game changer, and we were not as involved in it as we should have been. Clearly a mistake, and he rightfully earned his “BFU” award. While it may depress you on this happy occasion, you too will earn a Big Foul Up award at some point in your business life. The nature and magnitude of your own personal “BFU” event will vary and occasionally with time, may moderate and could even lead you to success. I was always comforted by my grandfather’s remark that you don’t have to be right all the time, you just have to be right 51% of the time.
Missteps are part of business because information is incomplete and big economic events are unpredictable. We have a highly competitive economy and the most profitable business decisions are made early. If you wait until all the data and information is generally known, you will be like the farmer who plows his field only when he sees his neighbor planting – this man will always be late. I am here to tell you late is not good!
Lest I leave you with a wrong impression, my father was a great businessman with good analytical skills. So he believed in always doing your homework; leave no stone unturned in your effort to understand the facts and consider all the possibilities. Once a decision was made, there was no second guessing. One of his qualities that I appreciated the most -- was after you had put forth your best effort, that was good enough, no matter the outcome.
When you carefully reason through an issue or problem and make a decision, you become responsible. I believe what we need to do today is promote the notion of individual responsibility. Personal responsibility means you are independent and capable of making your own decisions. You also learn to live with them, both the good ones and the bad ones. Personal responsibility is part of becoming an individual, and I believe it will lead you to make more careful, reasoned decisions.
The right to decide how you want to live your life defines the idea of freedom and liberty. However, freedom is not a state of anarchy. Our country defines the notion of human liberty in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the United States whereby all lawful citizens’ freedom should be protected. Along with freedom, we should also have certain principles that guide us through life. You can choose your own, but I think a good starting point is to treat others in the same fashion that you would like to be treated.
Recently, I have been fascinated by the story of the Men and Women who founded our country. With the passing of so many years, it now seems like a seamless process, however, a closer reading of the events reveals many human trials and tests of our character. It seems miraculous that there is a United States of America. Reading history, the foundation of the United States, was a disjointed, protracted process, one that could have easily fallen apart. We are guided today by these enlightened documents and they form the core values of what it is to be an American. We know some of the names of the great men of the day by heart -- Washington, Madison, Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton -- and behind all the leaders there was a great following that spilled blood to help create this nation.
The founders and first generation of US citizens faced many difficult issues, and we have benefited from all the hard work and struggles of those who have gone before us. The study of history helps place a perspective on our position in the world and helps explain how we got here. Historians can later compare the relative challenges of each generation; however, there is no doubt that this is an important time in our history. We can detail the Domestic and Global Economic crises: America is at war in the Middle East, Global Terrorism persists and Nuclear Proliferation continues across the globe. Our history will be written according to how well we addressed these issues.
I personally do not believe that appeasement is a solution. Certainly, the policy of appeasement did not work in the 1930’s as it only allowed Fascism to grow stronger. Ultimately, the price of appeasement was World War II.
Some or possibly all of you are wondering how this relates to you. These global, political and macro-economic issues are too big for you to grapple with and resolve. Yes, the issues are big and complex, but my argument is that in our system, we have produced individuals who have taken on the responsibility of shouldering some of the biggest burdens of our time. However, the strength of our leadership is only as strong as our citizen’s commitment to the ideals of American democracy.
In order for America to remain a vibrant, open economy, we need you to be successful. We can best face challenges when we have a productive economy together with a political system that rewards hard work, risk-taking and good economic decision making. If you believe in capitalism, how can profits be a dirty word? We hear that the jobless rate is 9.8% and job growth is slow and at the same time tax rates are set to escalate next year. There is no question that small and medium size businesses are the primary job generators and many of you will soon be looking for a job. Your chance to be hired by a small business goes up if we can encourage small business with lower taxes, a reformed tax code and common sense regulation.
Besides the danger of high taxes squelching a recovery, I would like to address another danger that threatens our economy - INFLATION.
We frequently hear the low inflation numbers that are recited in the consumer price index. Most often the number you hear excludes food and energy and once they are included, the number is substantially higher. Most of you are too young to remember the great inflation period of the late 1970’s. Inflation is a brutal economic force that rips off the purchasing power of all people. Common sense tells us deficit spending can only go on for only so long, before rampant inflation sets in.
Unless we change our ways soon, you and my sons will be the ones that will pay our debt. Economic activity will be suppressed and our nation will be weaker. What thinking American can be in favor of a smaller America that offers less opportunity to its citizens?
I have been involved in running different businesses for 35 years, and during that time I have seen periods of great inflation and multiple recessions together with many years of great opportunity. I can tell you I have enjoyed it tremendously. I believe there is a ladder to success and earning your business degree has already put you higher up on that ladder and now you have the exciting challenge of deciding where you want that ladder to take you.
While you begin your new business career, I urge you to remain engaged in the economic and political life of your community, state and nation. The challenges we face are opportunities and often times we personally grow the most when we face adversity.
You, together with all the rest of the business graduates in this great country, will become our future business leaders. We need you to become involved and when we do not agree, I hope we can use common sense to find a solution. The bottom line is we need your leadership.
I know that the sun is shining outside and it will also shine tomorrow because Americans have faced challenges before and solved them. Sometimes, they were not resolved in the most elegant way, but they were patched up and fixed. Each generation has faced a poor economy or a war and some generations confronted both. In order to be able to offer every American an opportunity to recognize their talents, we need citizens to participate in our Democracy. We need new business leaders who understand the vital role that small and medium size companies play in our economy. Common sense would tell you to encourage the formation and growth of small business. Job growth and lower unemployment demands we create and nurture existing small business. As business school graduates, you can understand the different arguments and I believe each of us has a responsibility to voice our opinions and reason with each other and participate in our political process. Our political system may not be perfect; however, the ideas that form the foundation for our democracy are as perfect as man can make them.
In order to keep America Democratic and Capitalist, we need more informed citizens who believe in the virtues of private enterprise. I truly believe that our capitalist system gives you, all the graduates of this university, the best chance to recognize your talents and lead you to a successful and happy life. Congratulations on your accomplishments. Earning your degree is a high honor, and I believe you will always look back and believe that this is one of the best investments you could make. Your college education will serve as a platform to support all your endeavors in life.
GOOD LUCK AND PURSUE YOUR GOALS WITH PERSISTENCE AND ENTHUSIASM!