Commencement 2006

Webb Institute, Saturday, 17 June 2006
  Karl Laubstein Dr. Karl Laubstein addresses the Class of 2006

President Olsen, Chairman Cuneo, distinguished members of the Board of Trustees of the Webb Institute, Graduates of the Class of 2006, families and friends of the graduates, staff and students of Webb, Ladies and Gentlemen: Good Afternoon.

It is a real pleasure, as well as a great honour, to be here with you today to celebrate the personal success of 10 young men who today will receive their degree of Bachelor of Science in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. This ceremony is the culmination of four years of rigorous study and team work at this historic and prestigious institution of higher education. You graduates can be justly proud of what you have achieved, and so can be your parents and friends, the Webb Institute, and all others who have supported you.

At this important juncture in your life - when you are poised to embark on your professional career in the maritime sector - let me reflect for a moment on what you have gained so far, and what is expected or required of you if you are to take full advantage of the professional opportunities in the global maritime transportation sector. What you received at the Webb Institute, first and foremost, was a superb grounding in the theories and methods of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. Moreover, the "Webb Experience" also benefited you graduates by instilling in you basic values and attitudes which will serve you well in your professional life: the ethical imperatives of your professional discipline, a sense of duty and commitment to serve the maritime industry, the value of team work and professional collaboration, the Webb Honour Code of behaviour.

Therefore, I believe you Webb graduates are well prepared to face the challenges and realize the opportunities waiting for you in the working world of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. Nevertheless, I would like to offer you some advice on what, in my opinion, is required to cope successfully with the challenges of today's highly complex, constantly changing, and increasingly inter-dependent world of maritime transportation worldwide.

Maritime transportation - the design and operation of ships for the transport of goods and people to all corners of the world, and the basic rules and standards of this mode of transport - is truly international in character and global in scale. While the United States is the most powerful nation on earth, economically and otherwise, it is not the dominant player in maritime transport: most ships are designed and built in places like South Korea, Japan and increasingly also in China (currently these 3 countries account for 80% of world shipbuilding tonnage); most ships are owned, operated and manned by non-Americans; and much of the sea-borne cargo moves between Europe and Asia. This means that your "professional universe" as naval architects and marine engineers is not just the shipping industry in your homeland, the United States, but the whole wide world of maritime transportation.

As genuine maritime professional - be it naval architect, marine engineer, or any other maritime professional - one must be "open to the world": one must continue to learn about and keep up-to-date on national and international developments in one's profession and in maritime transportation in general; one must keep on learning and regularly updating one's professional expertise. Put simply, one must commit oneself to, and engage in, what is termed "life-long learning"; one must be aware of, and sensitive to, national and cultural differences in the global maritime community; one must be aware of and adapt to change in the theories and methods of one's profession.

While you have been educated and trained as specialists in naval architecture and marine engineering, I would submit that you will greatly benefit, particularly as you rise to more senior positions in your profession, if you expand your professional knowledge base beyond naval architecture and marine engineering.

One of the trends in higher education during the second half of the 20th century has been increasing specialization. The academic disciplines and subjects have not only grown in number, but have become increasingly specialized (narrowly focused) and differentiated from each other. Consequently the higher education system has produced an increasing number of specialists who, no matter how proficient in their chosen field of expertise, have relatively little or no knowledge of other fields of expertise and study.

No doubt this trend towards increased specialization was partly in response to the increasing complexity, technological advance, and pace of the modern industrial world. To cope with many of the specialized tasks and processes in this world you simply need highly qualified specialists of various kinds, particularly in the fields of science and technology.

The education and training of different kinds of maritime professionals has also become more specialized or narrowly focused. However, whatever the need for greater specialization, particularly for people in the more scientific or technical positions in the maritime sector, I would submit that all middle- and senior level personnel - regardless of the specific expertise or responsibilities of their position in the maritime industry - can benefit from some general knowledge outside their field of specialization. Maritime professionals in naval architecture and marine engineering will definitely benefit from expanding their knowledge of subjects such as maritime law, management principles and practices, finance and personnel, and marine environmental issues. This won't turn you into a "generalist", but into a better "specialist" in your chosen profession.

During your four years of intensive study at the Webb Institute you have been exposed to, and hopefully have absorbed and internalized, a great deal of the conventional wisdom (to use an expression coined by John Kenneth Galbraith, the renowned American scholar and diplomat from Ontario, Canada) - namely, the prevailing professional consensus on the whys and "hows" of doing things in naval architecture and marine engineering. This consensus has developed over time through trial-and-error in the thinking and practical experience of countless professionals who have preceded you in your field of work. It provides you with the essential theoretical framework and analytical tools to do your work as naval architects and marine engineers.

However, the conventional wisdom of any discipline or profession is not sacrosanct or immutable. After all, it is the product of time and circumstance, both of which change over time. There have always been individuals with intellectual curiosity, vision and initiative who have challenged the conventional wisdom in their professional field, and in the process of doing so have brought about significant changes in their area of work.

A good example in maritime transportation is the revolutionary change brought about by containerization, the movement of freight from the producer to the consumer by a seamless chain of sea, rail and road transport. This revolution changed the economic landscape worldwide and has been a major contributing factor to globalization. It was spearheaded by Malcolm McLean, a trucker from North Carolina who was helped in this endeavour by a group of enthusiastic young naval architects, marine engineers and seafarers - one of whom, Dr. Charles Cushing, is now on the Board of Trustees of the Webb Institute. These pioneers of containerization certainly went against the conventional wisdom prevailing some fifty years ago. They contributed to fundamental change to maritime transportation and to international trade and development worldwide, as well as to naval architecture and marine engineering.

The point I am trying to make to you is this: You have succeeded in your demanding studies and are ready to join the maritime industry as naval architects and marine engineers. Now don't just "settle into your job" and rest on your laurels. Your studies and intellectual development must continue if you are to realize your full potential as maritime professionals. There are many challenges and opportunities for young naval architects and marine engineers if you keep on expanding your horizon and maintain your intellectual curiosity.

I would like to conclude with a few remarks on the strategic role of the global industry - maritime transportation - which you are about to join. The maritime transportation sector is truly an engine of world trade, of economic growth, and of globalization. Just consider these figures:

  • seaborne trade nowadays accounts for about 90% of the total value of world trade;
  • seaborne trade - currently about 7 billion tons annually - contributes about 15% to global GDP; for many years now growth in seaborne trade has exceeded growth in GDP;
  • in January 2006, a total of 4,800 ships with a combined tonnage of 236 million DWT were on the order books of the world ship building industry - an all-time record!

What these figures suggest is that maritime transportation is a dynamic global economic sector with great opportunities for maritime business and for maritime professionals such as naval architects and marine engineers. Regarding these opportunities, let me just quote a distinguished mariner and Honorary Trustee of the Webb Institute, Dr. Richard Soper, who said this in a recent speech delivered at the World Maritime University in Malmö, Sweden:

"An intriguing aspect of these challenges is the broad scope of opportunities for young transportation professionals. In a system dependent on intricate interrelated services the future will put heavy demands on: naval architects, shipbuilders, land transportation sciences, port development and management, international shipping economics, transportation education and environmental sciences."

I would urge you, the graduates of the Webb Institute, to seek out and take advantage of these opportunities. As graduates of this prestigious institution you are exceptionally qualified and well-prepared for whatever the future holds.

I wish you well in whatever lies ahead and ask all in this audience here today to take pleasure and happiness in this celebration of your academic achievement.