Here is a text of my speech to the University of Wyoming College of Arts & Sciences awards banquet in Laramie on May 4, 2019, accepting with gratitude and pride the award for Outstanding Alumnus 2019.
Thank you, Dean Lutz. Thank you also to the nominators, selection committee, the Arts & Sciences Board of Visitors, and to my family who traveled to join us here today. It was an honor to have served on the Board of Visitors for about 15 years, so it’s particularly thrilling to be back with many familiar faces today.
But most especially thank you to my teachers, the best of whom were Mom and Dad. They were both gifted teachers in their realms—Mom taught grades 4-6 in Rock River, and Dad was an electrical engineering professor at UW for 40 years. They were not only great parents, but they were great teachers too. Very special thanks to so many other gifted teachers along the way, two of whom are here today–Dean Oliver Walter and Dr. Ric Reverand—and to the late Dr. Mike Horan, the late Dr. Fred Homer and to Dr. Gregg Cawley. Plus, thanks to many Laramie school teachers, especially Dan Nelson and Dan Rulli. It was an honor to learn from all of you, and all of you share in this recognition.
I’m a proud product of Wyoming’s schools, and a proud product of UW!
The College of Arts & Science’s motto is “Prepare for Complete Living” – and it does. UW taught me how to think, and specifically how to be what I call a “systemic thinker.” Systemic thinkers are pattern spotters and puzzle solvers who think across disciplines and who fight the cultural tendency to specialize narrowly. They can think not only within their chosen verticals, but horizontally across others as well. They’re not afraid to leave their swim lanes.
Yes, of course Harvard has been a valuable credential, but UW provided something far more valuable: it taught me how to think, systemically. UW was comparatively more interested in teaching how to think than teaching what to think.
Speaking of Harvard, here are two stories that book-end my time there, from the very first day to something that happened just last month. In that first class at the Kennedy School in 1990, we were studying gun control. Throughout the class the professor kept making fun of people from Wyoming. Please understand I was a basket of nerves and insecurity—I hadn’t spent much time away from home yet and was surrounded by fellow students who had already traveled the world, worked in big jobs and spoke foreign languages. (Only later did I realize almost everyone else had similar insecurities too!) After hearing the professor disparage Wyomingites for about an hour, I finally conjured up the nerve to raise my hand and reveal that I was from Wyoming—at which time the whole classroom broke into laughter. It broke the ice. The Wyoming kid was a curiosity.
Fast forward to my law school reunion a few weeks ago, and again the Wyomingite was a curiosity—but this time for an entirely different reason. Harvard asked me to speak at our 25th law school reunion, because so many classmates wanted to hear about this white-hot new technology called “blockchain” and how Wyoming, of all places, ended up as the definitive leader in it.
I’m so proud of the Wyoming legislature’s leadership in this area. Most of you probably already know that Wyoming’s lawmakers have been leaders in many areas throughout its storied history. Wyoming Territory was the first to grant women the right to vote, and it stood up to Congressional pressure to take that back before finally becoming a state. We had the first woman governor, the first woman bailiff and the first all-woman jury. More recently, in 1977 Wyoming invented something that changed the business world for the better—the limited liability company. (In fact, Perry Dray (former law partner of Greg Dyekman, who’s with us today), is credited with that invention. I used to play tennis with the Dray kids but had no idea until years later the significance of their father’s accomplishment!)
Today, Wyoming is leading again, this time in blockchain—a technology that will change all of our lives for the better. Wyoming has already attracted important companies to move here and is on the verge of attracting more.
But here’s a confession. As a kid, I really wanted to leave and explore the big world. I’ve lived away for many years but never stopped calling Wyoming home, and have kept coming back to serve on various UW boards almost continuously ever since. For years I’ve half-joked it will take the rest of my life to figure out how to come back to Wyoming. Well, it actually didn’t that long. I’m in the process of moving back to help build the blockchain tech sector here. There’s much work to do to finish what we’ve started building. Thank you to UW, which has already been teaching blockchain classes for three years, and which has been an effective partner in the economic development effort.
Wyoming and blockchain fit so well together because Wyoming’s values overlap with the ethos of blockchain: rugged individualism, privacy, clear property rights, no state taxes. What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours. Good fences make good neighbors. All as it should be.
UW gave me the tools to spot the importance of blockchain technology in its early stage, to understand its historical significance, and to understand how it can help solve Wyoming’s economic development needs. I can’t think of a better volunteer passion project—what an honor it has been to pay it forward!
Let me close with a contrast. Of course, my Harvard experience was amazing, but—admittedly simplifying here—the two most important parts were getting in and graduating. By contrast, at UW the valuable parts were everything that happened in between getting in and graduating, and everything that has happened since.
Thank you to all of you who made that so!