The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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May 27, 2012

Famed explorer Robert Ballard addresses Thomas Jefferson graduates

JOPLIN, Mo. — Famed oceanographic archaeologist Robert Ballard told the 2012 graduating class of Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School on Sunday: “All journeys in life begin with a dream. ... When you get knocked down in life, it’s your passion that makes you get back up.”

Ballard, who is most recognized for his discovery of the sunken luxury liner RMS Titanic, said it was special to come to Joplin and speak to graduates whose community has inspired the nation. He said Joplin has taken a special place in the national lexicon for its response to the May 2011 tornado.

“Joplin has become special in America,” Ballard said

before the ceremony. “Watching the devastation that took place a year ago and watching the people pick themselves up was inspirational.”

Ballard told the graduates that he was fortunate to be living his dream. He said he was inspired by the novels of Jules Verne as a child.

“When I was a little kid, I wanted to be Captain Nemo from ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,’” he said.

In his more than 30 years of undersea exploration, Ballard has discovered many shipwrecks of historical significance. After discovering the Titanic in 1985, Ballard discovered the German battleship Bismarck in 1989; the British ocean liner Lusitania, which was torpedoed during World War I, in 1993; and the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, which was sunk during the Battle of Midway, in 1998.

Ballard said every shipwreck he discovers brings a sense of accomplishment, along with mourning for the people who went down with the ships.

“Every ship that I’ve ever found took someone with them, and that’s why we never touch them,” he said. “We look at them, we photograph them and we leave them where we find them, and that’s why we’re opposed to salvagers. You don’t go to Gettysburg with a shovel, and you don’t take belt buckles off the (USS) Arizona. We’ve been trying to protect the history that’s in the ocean.”

Ballard said he doesn’t have much use for people who retrieve relics from the Titanic.

“I think they’re bottom feeders, and I don’t have much respect for those people,” he said of the salvagers. “They can package it however they want, but they’re just trying to make a buck.”

He also said he doesn’t frequent museums that display Titanic relics.

“I won’t go to those places,” he said. “I won’t step foot in them, and if I find that a place has shown (Titanic artifacts), I won’t go there. If you can’t protect the Titanic, what can you protect?”

In addition to the larger vessels, Ballard also discovered John F. Kennedy’s sunken torpedo boat PT-109 in 2002, and interviewed the two Pacific islanders who rescued the future president and his crew. In July, Ballard plans to focus on another small craft, an ancient Roman trade vessel recently discovered at the bottom of the Black Sea.

Ballard said the craft has been preserved by a layer of anoxic water that does not contain enough oxygen to support most life. He said the layer is unique to the Black Sea and dates back to the period of the biblical flood. Those who are interested in the exploration may watch live footage of the exploration at www.jasonproject.org.

Alex Oserowsky, valedictorian, told his classmates that the close-knit environment and heavy workload at Thomas Jefferson prepared them for the challenges they will face in life. He said the school is unique when compared with other institutions.

“I believe this school is an anomaly in regards to the typical American educational institution because, unlike the other schools, attaining a high graduation rate and high standardized test scores are not the ultimate goals of this institution,” Oserowsky said. “Obviously the trend has been that T.J. does have the highest graduation rate, and students from this school have been the most successful on standardized tests and acceptance into institutions of higher learning, but the true objective of this school is to develop individuals.”

College-bound

The class of 2012 was the 16th class to graduate from Thomas Jefferson since its inception in 1993. Next year, the school — which educates children ages 4 to 18 — will celebrate its 20th anniversary. It was noted Sunday that all 18 graduating seniors will be attending college, including two who will go to Ivy League schools. Adrianne Elliott and Rebecca Humphreys will both attend Yale University in the fall.

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