2014 Commencement Address by Deborah Wince-Smith, President and CEO, Council on Competitiveness

June 26th, 2014 Posted in Events
University of Toledo
Commencement Speech
Saturday, May 3, 2014

Deborah L. Wince-Smith
President & CEO, Council on Competitiveness

Good morning, Board Chairman Zerbey, President Jacobs, Trustees, Provost Scarborough, Faculty, Distinguished Graduates, Family and Friends.

Morning Commencement ceremonyI am honored and privileged to share in this seminal milestone, as we come together to celebrate the hard work, dedication, and achievements of the University of Toledo graduates assembled here today.

We salute your individual success.

We salute your collective accomplishments.

And we congratulate you as you embark upon the journeys that will shape the next chapter in your personal and professional lives.

You may not fully realize the “Potential and Power” you possess.

Yet, you stand before us as the next generation of thinkers, creators, innovators, and inspired leaders.

You embody the capability and harbor the responsibility to forge a new future for our great nation and to impact a better future for global prosperity and security.

As a classical archaeologist, my lifelong passion has been to understand and elucidate the continuum of human civilization. The creation, mastery, and use of new knowledge and technology in innovation have always determined which cultures, societies, and economies flourished and changed the course of history.

Indeed, across the world and through the millennia, nothing else has played a greater role in cultural evolution, national prosperity, and spiritual and artistic achievement.

Here in Toledo, “The Glass City,” the heritage and legacy of innovation infuses culture and prosperity—built upon a foundation of thousands of years of scientific discovery, technological experimentation, entrepreneurship, and risk taking— culminating in today’s preeminent industrial enterprises anchored along the Maumee River.

Humans have always valued glass and have been enthralled by its mystical properties.

From the most fragile, iridescent perfume bottle created for an Egyptian Princess, to the bits of mirror Spanish Conquistadores flashed in the sun to dazzle Aztec and Inca Royalty, to the kaleidoscope of colored jewels, shimmering within the dome of a Mughal Emperor’s Pavilion, the Alchemy of Glass has ever transfixed our imagination.

We gaze spellbound and worship sacred images adorning the radiant, stained-glass windows of soaring cathedrals. Glass beguiles us with its pure aesthetic beauty. We are fascinated by the mystical, optical reflection of glass. The glimmer of its light is gloriously revealed in full sunlight and soothes our souls as the shadow of dusk crosses the night sky.

The artistic creations of Tiffany, Steuben, Tiffin, and Dale Chihuly grace and define our public buildings, and decorate our homes with special occasion glass objects we use in our daily lives and cherish as family heirlooms.

One cannot but marvel at the treasures of glass history housed in the Toledo Glass Museum, truly a veritable record of man’s innovation, evolving tastes, and the pure joy of artistic creation.

All Stone Age cultures used natural “volcanic” glass as a core material for fashioning tools. They affixed glass tips to spears for hunting, and made sharp glass cutting tools to fashion clothing and construct shelters.

In the Bronze Age Aegean world, and throughout antiquity, the Cycladic Island of Melos held a closely guarded and lucrative trade monopoly to supply the finest “obsidian” for a myriad of applications found in the archaeological record for thousands of years.

Today, we cannot imagine the modern world without the use of glass. Glass infuses every aspect of life, from our built environments and medicine, to scientific instruments and our ubiquitous iPhone screens. And, glass is centered at the very fulcrum of enabling the large-scale solar panels bringing renewable energy to our electric grid, homes, farms, and industrial facilities.

The Story of Glass is a “Mirror of Human History.” The first “true” glass was produced in Mesopotamia’s Fertile Crescent and Ancient Egypt some 5,000 years ago. Glass beads, gold, rock crystal, and ebony comprised the most precious cargoes of the sailing vessels plying the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, traversing the Great Nile, and connecting people and cultures across the Mediterranean world.

From Karnack and Ugarit, to the Palaces of Minoan Crete and the rock hewn Lion Gate of the Citadel of Mycenaean Kings, nothing was more prized than carved glass intaglio gemstones, more precious to Pharaohs and high priestesses than lapis lazuli and turquoise mined from the Sinai desert and remote hills of Afghanistan.

“Glass Blowing” became the technology game changer in the Early Roman Empire of the 1st Century, BC. This new technology was quickly championed by the Roman State, which took control of its use for artistic design and glass fabrication. Presaging our 21st Century “Global Supply Chain” networks, Rome outsourced glass manufacturing to Alexandria, Egypt. In so doing, they created the first “Industrial Glass Cluster” of talented craftsman, materials suppliers, and distributors for luxury glass products. Soon, these highly sought after goods moved across the Roman Empire, delighting customers, defining taste, providing skilled jobs, and delivering wealth and prosperity.

During the Crusades, Glass Makers fled to Venice, and a new “Glass Cluster” emerged. With artistic design, know how, and production techniques coming from Syria, Glass Making was established in 13th century Venice as its flagship industry. The delicate wares of Murano Glass Blowers became the very symbol of sophisticated taste, luxury and wealth, from the dowries of Medieval Queens to the goblets Kings raised at Royal Banquets.

And, the innovation journey of glass continued apace, with the Venetians jealously guarding their “trade secrets” and proprietary knowledge. In tandem, new innovators and risk takers continually joined the race to “out create and out innovate,” spurring creativity, expanding competition, and building new trade networks.

With the superior, clear, colorless glass known as “Cristallo,” Venice’s Murano Islands became glassmaking epicenters. However, scientific discovery and new technology eventually undercut the Venetian chokehold on the global glass trade, and the wealth and prestige it conferred.

In 1673, George Ravenscroft’s new materials innovation produced “Clear Lead Crystal” fabricated on an industrial scale. With a refractive index that made glass brilliant and pliant for cutting and engraving, “Lead Crystal” revolutionized taste and trade. England soon eclipsed Venice as the “Glass Innovator”—clearly an example of “Disruptive Innovation” at work! Thereafter, the Industrial Revolution’s mechanical tools, organized labor, capital investment, and new business models moved glass production from the craft guild to industrial scale manufacturing.

Yet again, the Innovation Journey and evolution of glass shifted gear and place, as German innovators and investors entered the game. Scientist Otto Schott, a chemist and inventor, joined forces with the Carl Zeiss firm to capitalize on the effect of new chemicals to define the optical and thermal properties of glass. This invention gave rise to unimagined applications and the birth of today’s global industrial enterprises, employing thousands of scientists, engineers, designers, artists, and production workers around the globe.

Frederick Siemens’ invention, the “Tank Furnace,” accelerated continuous, large-scale production for molten glass.

Together, Schott, Zeiss, and Siemens forged a rich legacy, epitomizing science at the frontier, the development of new technology and tools, and the risk taking and rewards inherent in entrepreneurship. They led the way from “Start-up to Scale-up!”

Today, Schott is a $2.7 billion company with 16,000 employees.

Zeiss is a $5 billion enterprise with 24,000 employees.

And Siemens stands tall as a $120 billion global giant, employing 370,000 employees, with a diverse product portfolio spanning the full spectrum of electronics—from the most advanced automation and power systems, to health imaging and telecommunications.

And, of course, being America and Americans, we too were “on the move,” innovating, investing, growing new businesses, and changing the world!

The journey to the “Toledo Glass City” began in Massachusetts at the New England Glass Company—a descendant of the storied colonial innovators of precious Sandwich and Cranberry glass, a rare color wrought by the fusion of glass with gold.

William Libby worked as the company’s agent. Soon, his son, Edward, took on the mantle of entrepreneur and risk taker. After failures and setbacks, he still recognized opportunity and moved the New England Glass Company to Toledo.

Why Toledo? — Well, there was abundant and inexpensive energy—“natural gas”—to provide industrial feedstock and fuel production. Sound familiar to today? There was access to high quality sand as the core natural resource, coupled to a critical logistics infrastructure. Integrated networks of rail, land, and steamship transportation provided rapid supply of materials and market distribution for finished products.

In 1888, a train arrived in Toledo from Boston with 50 carloads of machinery and 250 skilled workers. Edward Libby quickly established the new Libby Glass Company.

Truly, the Libby story is a “Back to the Future” parable, an inspiration and object lesson for today’s 21st century manufacturing and energy renaissance well underway here in Toledo and across America. But also, it is a parable of the “Disruptive Power of Innovation,” and the imagination and hard work of innovators.

In 1888, Libby hired the uneducated son of a coalminer, Michael Owens, a glass worker from the age of 10. He went on to invent the most important glass production technology in more than 2,000 years—a huge, transformative breakthrough that propelled the glass industry into the 20th century Industrial Age. Owens invented the technologies and processes to automate the manufacture of light bulbs and window glass. His seminal 1904 patent for a “Glass-Shaping Machine” brought glass products for the first time to the masses, creating new demand, new markets, new jobs, and new prosperity for a growing Middle Class.

And, by 1930, Libby Owens had joined forces with Toledo’s Ford Plate Glass Company to become the first major producer of flat glass for the automotive and building products industries. In no small part, the “Glass, Auto, and Rubber Clusters” of Northeast Ohio and Michigan harnessed the industrial might of the American Midwest, powering the successful invasion of Normandy, determining the outcome of World War II, and propelling America to post war global leadership.

Now, you must be wondering why, on your graduation day, you are hearing a mini-lecture on glass. Because, the story of “Glass Making” in the City of Toledo, and its great university–where you have studied and flourished–captures the very essence of why innovation matters. This is why each and every one of you—from scientists and engineers, to artists, doctors, and philosophers—must contribute to building and nurturing an Innovation Society, an Innovation Culture, and an Innovation Economy for America.

Like the Glass Makers of old, you, the newest entrants to the societies of learned and imaginative men and women, have an obligation to be “21st Century Glass Makers,” to be illuminators—and innovators—shining the ever brighter lights that will lead our way into new worlds.

The “Metaphor of Glass” and the “Power of the Glass Maker” are metaphors for the power of knowledge, and the risk taking and hard work that every generation must undertake to improve the human condition. Following countless generations across the sweep of history, your generation must now accept the mantle of responsibility to forge the next wave of innovation, economic growth, and social progress.

“Glass Innovators” turned abundant sand into lenses to afford sight. They gave sailors and navigators the tools to explore the seas and discover new worlds. They empowered scientists and doctors to see and probe deeply into a single cell to cure disease. And, they unleashed the vision of astronomers to contemplate and understand the nature of our universe, explore its very beginnings, and predict its infinite expansion into universes existing far beyond our wildest imagination.

And, today, America’s “21st Century Glass Makers” are leading science, technology, and innovation at the University of Toledo, collaborating with industry to develop new products and performance at the cutting edge of innovation. These Toledo Glass Makers are at the vanguard of our 21st century energy revolution—a revolution that will ultimately capture the power of our inexhaustible Sun!

But what of your future as you soon depart this place of learning and discovery? You must now find your place and purpose in an era of turbulence, transition, and transformation, in a world being reshaped by globalization, new technology, and boundless opportunity.

You will ever live in a world of relentless, accelerating technological change, opportunity, and, yes, uncertainty and risk.

The digital, biotechnological, nanotechnology, and cognitive revolutions are rewriting the rules of production and services in digital code, genetic code, atomic code, and neural code.

These technologies will shape our collective future. They will determine where economic activity will flourish, where wealth will be created, how humans will progress, and how society will advance—much as the technologies of legendary “Glass Makers” contributed to the prosperity and vitality of Egypt, Rome, Syria, Venice, England, Germany, Toledo, and America!

As the next generation of thinkers, creators, innovators, and leaders, you have the “Potential and Power” to exploit the leading edge of technology to create a new physical world, to relieve human suffering, improve living conditions, and make life easier, more productive, and more joyful for the many, not just the few.

You have the power to solve the great global challenges of our time—adequate food, clean water, improved health, affordable energy, environmental sustainability, and global security.

You have the “Potential and Power” to build the new businesses that will provide a skilled job and a good living for others, reduce poverty, and bring wealth and development to your communities and to communities in need around the world.

Moreover, you have at your disposal the greatest collective, cumulative knowledge of humankind, coupled to the most profound tool set heretofore created.

Imagine if the thinkers of Classical Greece had today’s research, computational, and data-mining tools.

Imagine if the artists, architects, and inventors working in the studios of Renaissance Florence had today’s platforms for visualization, graphics, digital design, and rapid prototyping.

Imagine if the engineers of the Industrial Revolution had access to the advanced materials, smart manufacturing tools, high performance computing, and modeling and simulation embodied in a smart phone!

Our planet holds rich, diverse, and abundant resources—both tangible and intangible—that constitute the raw materials you must transform. You must draw upon your ingenuity and creative power—much like “Glass Makers” have done for thousands of years—to create new value, abundance and, yes, beauty.

From its very beginning, glass reflected nature’s light and illuminated our world. Your parents, teachers, and fellow citizens now look to you to illuminate our future world with the light of your minds, with the knowledge you have learned, and with a lifelong commitment to imagine and out-create.

And, most important, you must strive to become committed, caring leaders. For today, we pass the torch to you, the shapers and stewards of our future world, a world you will one day bequeath to generations yet to come.

Let me close with these inspiring words from our 36th President, Lyndon B. Johnson, that I believe capture the “Power and Potential” you hold in your hands today and that you will carry with you throughout your lives:

“For this is what America is all about. It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground. Is our world gone? We say “Farewell.” Is a new world coming? We welcome it—and, we will bend it to the hopes of man.”


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