Embrace the unexpected

Dr. Thomas Snitch implores graduates to find their passion


By Jen Sobolewski

Dr. Thomas Snitch said he found his life’s passion standing in the middle of the Serengeti plains in Kenya. After working for decades as a nuclear weapons negotiator, and then with some of the world’s largest companies, he was given a choice.

“An old ranger said to me, ‘We are losing our elephants, our rhinos are being slaughtered and our lions are dying. Can you help us?’ The proverbial light bulb went off and I realized that all of my years since leaving BGSU had come down to this one moment. In the middle of Africa, maybe I could do something.”

Snitch received an honorary degree May 9 during the commencement ceremony for the colleges of Arts and Sciences and Firelands, where he also served as commencement speaker. He holds a Distinguished Senior Professorship at the University of Maryland’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, where he directs an international team working on anti-poaching and wildlife crime issues. He is also a senior professor of science at the United Nations University in Tokyo. In this role, he serves as the U.N.’s executive officer for the Worldwide Enforcement Monitoring Systems, which oversees the global trade in endangered flora and fauna.

Snitch is also president of Little Falls Associates Inc. and chief scientist at GeoQuera, consulting firms specializing in solving complex scientific and technological challenges in Asia and Africa. Since 1990, he has worked on issues such as responding to the Tohoku earthquake in Japan and the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant, remediation of abandoned chemical weapons in China, the disposal of PCB wastes on U.S. military bases in the region, remote sensing policy in India, and the North Korean nuclear weapons situation. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Chinese and Asian studies from BGSU.

Snitch told the graduates that their diploma puts them in an exclusive group, which comes with great responsibilities.

“Only one in a 1,000 people ever earns a university degree—one out of 1,000. That’s is the good news; the bad news is that 999 others did not have this opportunity. Simply stated, you must always be proud to have attended this fine University and to hold BGSU dear to your heart.”

He told the new graduates that he was scared to death to start a doctoral program at American University in Washington, D.C., surrounded by students from Harvard, Yale and Princeton, afraid that he would be out of his league.

“The good news is that I was absolutely wrong.”

Snitch said he quickly discovered that students who had gone to the Ivy Leagues had read the same books, written the same papers and taken the same exams as he did. But, he had two great advantages. He was taught by real professors and not teaching assistants, and he carried with him what he called the “American Midwestern set of values.”

“You will never go wrong if you simply do the next right thing, and because you are graduating here today, you instinctively will always know what the next right thing is,” he said.

He also challenged the new graduates to embrace the spirit of community service and answer an important question—Why was I put on this earth?

“My advice is to open your ears, shut your mouth and listen to your heart. One day you will hear it, clear as a bell, a voice will tell you that this is why you want to get up in the morning. And then you will know.

“I didn’t plan for it, didn’t ask for it, really never expected that 40 years after leaving BGSU I would be spending my life in the African bush, at night, flying drones to catch bad people. But, that is how the world works. When it happens to you, you will know it.”

In closing, he implored the new alumni to make Bowling Green proud, because a “university is only as great as its graduates.”

Updated: 12/02/2017 12:46AM