Vol. 21, No. 1

Sept. 6, 2001

Noted explorer encourages
voyages of self-discovery

Howard Cosgrove (left) welcomes Robert Ballard into the UD family.

At New Student Convocation, Aug. 27, internationally recognized oceanographic explorer, scientist and author Robert Ballard told the members of the Class of 2005 that their generation will make more discoveries than all the previous generations combined.

Among Ballard's many accomplishments are finding the remains of the ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic and the World War II German battleship Bismarck, sunk by the British Navy in 1941. During his 30-year career in underwater exploration, Ballard has been involved in mapping the ocean floor and helping to discover the existence of "black smoke," near the thermal vents that are home to creatures that exist in a world completely devoid of sunlight.

Speaking from this background of scientific accomplishment and personal adventure, Ballard urged the newest members of the UD community to embark on their very own personal and professional journeys.

"Think about it: The golden years of exploration are not in our past; they are sitting here before me today," Ballard said. "I hope some of you accept the challenge to be explorers."

Ballard told the Class of 2005 that he once found himself in a similar situation as he prepared to start his undergraduate journey at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

"It is amazing the journey that I have been on, and it all began on that day," Ballard said. "I had a lot of nervous thoughts, and I wondered how my life was going to turn out. I really didn't know what I wanted to do."

What Ballard did know is that he loved the sea, having grown up by the ocean in San Diego, where he spent his boyhood exploring tidal pools and looking for whatever creatures he could find there.

He said he also was inspired by the Jules Verne classic novel 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea and imagined himself following in the footsteps of the book's main character, Capt. Nemo.

"When I told my parents that I wanted to be Capt. Nemo, they didn't laugh at me," Ballard said. "Instead, they encouraged me to pursue my dream."

Not knowing exactly what he wanted to do in life, Ballard said he figured he'd better study everything, so he embarked on an undergraduate career that included a major in chemistry and geology, with minors in math and physical science.

While it took him five years to complete his undergraduate education, Ballard also found time to satisfy his passion for art and history, never knowing that as his career unfolded, this diversified academic background would prove to be an invaluable asset.

"At my university, just like yours, I had these options, and I was able to pursue these other passions as I went on," Ballard said. "I received the most incredible broad-based education and it made my career possible."

Although taking such an academic path added an extra year to his undergraduate experience, Ballard said that it also has allowed him to pursue a career that has crossed all sorts of professional and personal boundaries.

"Thanks to my undergraduate education and my opportunity to sample all the wonderful opportunities that you are going to sample, I was able to be excited about these passions that were captured inside my soul," Ballard said.

Noting that such educational opportunities only come along once in a lifetime, Ballard advised his audience to sample the diversity of learning available at UD.

"I encourage you to take as many different kinds of classes as you can," Ballard said. "Even if you know exactly what you want to do in life, I encourage you to go off the course a little bit and sample this and sample that."

It was just such a detour from the beaten path that led Ballard to his most recognized discovery.

"As I was developing more data and more new technology, I went out and by sheer luck discovered the final remains of the R.M.S Titanic," Ballard said. "It was sort of amazing, because I had done many dives before that, but that one has become the hallmark of my career."

Finding the famous ship in the cold dark waters of the North Atlantic also proved to be a gateway to discoveries of ships of far greater antiquity, including the 1990 discovery of one of the largest concentrations of Roman ships ever found.

"We now believe that there is more history lost in the depths of the ocean than what is held by all the museums of the world," Ballard said. "It's your generation of explorers that is going to find the lost chapters of our history."

To begin this voyage of exploration, Ballard encouraged the Class of 2005 to follow individual dreams wherever that might lead during their undergraduate and professional careers.

"It must be your dream and not the dream of your parents or your teachers," Ballard said. "It must be your dream because your dream will provide you with the passion and energy that it is going to take to get you through the next four years and beyond."

Ballard's remarks followed a ceremony in which Board of Trustees Chairman Howard E. Cosgrove conferred an honorary doctor of science degree on the underwater scientist and explorer.

"As a preeminent explorer, and one of the world's foremost oceanographers, you have earned the respect of your academic peers in the scientific community as well as global recognition by countless others, including young people, who are inspired by the world of discovery and your contributions to it," Cosgrove said. "We recognize you today with an honorary degree, the highest the UD has to offer, for your leading edge research and pioneering efforts."

For Ballard, this second visit to UD turned out to be the most rewarding.

"I want to thank everybody who made this possible for me," Ballard said. "I was here a few years ago speaking to the student body and alumni. Now, it's a pleasure to be considered a member of the family."

Convocation also was an opportunity for UD President David P. Roselle to welcome in the new class of 4,330, students including four students who were celebrating their birthday that day.

Roselle reminded the new students that this would be the last time they would gather as a group until graduation four years from now, and he advised them to make the most of the time between Convocation and Commencement.

The president also challenged the students to take advantage of the many teaching and research resources available at UD.

"To the class of 2005, I extend my best wishes and congratulations to you as you begin your journey today," Roselle said. "Good luck to each and every one of you."

Corinne Bria, president of the Delaware Undergraduate Student Congress, also welcomed new students as she presented the Class of 2005 flag to freshman representative Alicia Beal, a graduate of Newark High School.

Junior music major Yun Chul Ko led the singing of the alma mater. After the official ceremony, UD mascot YoUDee greeted the crowd while the UD Cheerleaders and Precision Dance Team displayed the form that has earned them national honors in the field of college spirit competition.

–Jerry Rhodes

Photo by KATHY FLICKINGER