“So, when the climbing gets difficult and you feel ready to give up,
I suggest you do the same. Look up for inspiration and look back to where it
all started, to your wonderful years here at A&M, to put yourself on track
again. And if you get to the top of where you are going, don’t despair,
after all life is not just a mountain, it is a series of them. So just find
another one and always, always keep on climbing.”
- Jorge F. Quiroga, ’81, Vice President of Bolivia
Commencement Address at Texas A&M
Jorge F. Quiroga, Vice President of Bolivia
December 18, 1998
The first thing I want to explain tonight is the reason why I have been invited to give this address. No! It is not the job that I currently hold. It is rather the comparison I provided to a large gathering in Houston, during a seminar to promote energy investment in my country. I introduced the entire delegation that was with me including each of their impressive academic backgrounds. We had a gentleman that had a Georgetown undergraduate degree, a London School of Economics graduate degree and yet a third Harvard Masters degree in taxation. This gentleman, deservedly so I said, is the Undersecretary of Energy of Bolivia. I then, very humbly, noted that I only had a Texas A&M engineering degree and I was, of course, just the VICE-PRESIDENT of Bolivia.
I visit you here today as the proud son of the smartest person I have ever known, my mother, who never got a chance to enter College. But I also visit you as the proud father of three daughters who will one day be following their dad’s trail at this great university. They cannot, unfortunately, follow their mother’s footsteps. My wife made the mistake of going to UT, and I would never deprive my children from the opportunity of watching their school win the Big-12 championship.
The reason I mentioned my parents and children is because I stand her tonight at roughly the halfway mark, halfway between the graduates on the floor and the proud parents in the stands, halfway between my graduation date and my daughter’s commencement, old enough to reminisce, yet young enough to look ahead.
Yes, old enough to remember the days spent on this campus between Thermodynamics and the Racquetball champion of the world dreams. Between my duties as Calculus Teaching Assistant and the hopes that if I led the soccer league in scoring, someone back home would let me try out for the next soccer World Cup.
But while I was bouncing back at Texas A&M between books, friends and sports, my country was going through six Presidents in the three and a half years I spent getting my degree. Soon thereafter Bolivia was ravaged by hyperinflation to the tune of 28,000% per year, which made it cheaper then to take a taxi than a bus. You see in the bus you paid when you got in, in the taxi when you got there, and back then inflation moved faster than time.
Today things in my country are rather different. We are proud to have a strong democracy: five constitutional Presidential tenures where each transfer of power has been from a party in government to one in opposition. We are also proud of a 13-year economic record of stability with low inflation, growth well above the regional average and an open investment climate that is attracting more and more foreign, and particularly US investment.
But I said I’m young enough to look at the challenges ahead. Bolivia is moving to the XXI century with specific programs to generate higher economic growth rates and reduce the poverty in which 7 out of 10 Bolivians live in, while at the same time reforming the Judiciary and eliminating the production of drugs. We are also working to make Bolivia the vital heart of South America by developing energy, telecommunication and infrastructure links to all of our neighboring countries.
We have plenty of Aggie help in this endeavor. Several prominent private and public sector leaders have received a Texas A&M education. Several have come here today to join me in welcoming the hundreds more who tonight have attained their own educational goals.
Today’s graduates are luckier than I was. You were able to enjoy in your days here the George Bush Presidential Library that I visited today for the first time. It is up to the people of this country to rank this former President in his rightful historical place. As a young Bolivian who held key economic posts, including Ministry of Finance, while President Bush led this great nation, I can tell you he was the best U.S. President Bolivia has ever had. The Bush Initiative for the Americas helped my country in trade and debt relief to a degree that, I am certain, even the former President could not have imagined.
As Bolivian Vice-President I cannot make predictions on the US 200 presidential race. As an Aggie I am truly concerned….I don’t think we can accommodate two George Bush Presidential Libraries on campus, but…I sure think we can try.
Now, a special message to tonight’s graduating Aggies.
My country has very beautiful mountains, some towering well over twenty thousand feet. I have climbed several of them and the challenge is similar to the one you graduates face today. The beginning of any climb is pleasant and leisurely; you can go with tennis shoes and shorts up to about 15,000 feet. Then you get there to the snow line and you camp out right at the edge, between some rocks and a cold place. Early in the morning you get new ice equipment and you head for the summit. In the mountain of like you have today reached the snowline and are about to get some very good equipment, a Texas A&M degree, to head for the summit of success.
As you make your way to the top keep in mind that what truly matters in the long run is not what is on you, but rather what is in you. It is not the cosmetic aspects but the enduring traits. Not what is outside the skeleton but rather what is inside of it: your guts, your heart and your brain.
Yes, the drive from within your guts is the first key to accomplish the goals you set for yourself today. The road that you travel is determined not by momentous decisions, but rather by small steps taken at critical junctures. I cannot describe to you the many instances in which a different move would have led me to a quiet business or international bureaucracy position. It is the small and gutsy calls that you make in life that are truly important, and it is the gutsy will to overcome adversity that determines how far up the mountain you can climb.
I have learned much more in the quiet loneliness of a losing locker room, be it sports, business or political campaigns, than in the loud roaring of a winning one. It is absorbing the blows from adversity and having the guts to keep on going that will test you. I will certainly live to regret many mistakes I have made and will make, but I decided a long time ago that I will never regret not trying, that I will never feel remorse for staying on the sidelines.
The drive from your guts must have two companions.
First the compassion and ethics come from deep within your heart and soul. You have been blessed with a fine education. You will, I am sure, take care of yourself and your family in the future. A human being should do that, but you must find it within you heart to help and give to others less fortunate. I have found that in my country public service is the best way to do that, and it is the true essence of politics. I am not telling you do the same, I am merely suggesting that you will not be complete if you dedicate your life to just serve yourself, without dedicating a portion of it to serve and help your fellow men.
Second companion is the imagination from your brain. The ability to visualize the road ahead and not live fixated in the rear view mirror of life. The ability to dream, but not at night, that is for sleepy people. The true dreams are those that you have during the day and with a schedule to make them happen.
Remember, if things look the same to you in 2010 that they did in 2005, it is simply because you are traveling through flatlands, you are not climbing. Imagine a different road, a different way and find your mountain. The lack of imagination is the only thing that stands between you and your most successful future.
Your challenge is to firm up what is inside your skeleton: to get your guts in gear, open your heart and unleash your imagination. Do that, have a merry Christmas, a happy New Year and get ready to face the XXI century.
Let me finally tell you that my father had the good sense of sending all three of his boys to Texas A&M. I am here with Luis Quiroga, Finance major, Class of ’89. The third Aggie in my family was Mauricio Quiroga, Industrial Engineering major, and Class of ’88. He is not here today. In September of 1997, fifty-three days after I got sworn in as Vice-President of Bolivia, he, his wife and oldest daughter passed away in a tragic car wreck. That is why when I am climbing and feel my legs weary and my will weakening, I do two things: I look back at my roots to regain strength and I look up at my Aggie in the sky for inspiration.
So, when the climbing gets difficult and you feel ready to give up, I suggest you do the same. Look up for inspiration and look back to where it all started, to your wonderful years here at A&M, to put yourself on track again. And if you get to the top of where you are going, don’t despair, after all life is not just a mountain, it is a series of them. So just find another one and always, always keep on climbing.
Congratulations fellow graduating Aggies.
Thank you very much.