Attorney Bates '78 Discusses Energy, Liberal Arts Education

November 05, 2012

David Bates '78

by Ashley Wolfgang '14

Attorney David Bates '78, a longtime energy lawyer and a partner at Gardere Wynne Sewell in Houston, Texas, returned to the Knox College campus to give a talk on "Perspectives on Energy and a Liberal Arts Education." The October 25 event was hosted by Knox's Pre-Law Club.

After graduating from Knox, where he majored in political science, Bates received a law degree from Northwestern University. He eventually found himself immersed in the world of energy law at Exxon (later Exxon Mobil), where he worked for 17 years, despite initially knowing nothing about the field.

His concentration in the field allowed him to become more aware of the energy use around him. To describe this new awareness, Bates told a story describing all the energy that he used to travel from his home in Texas to Knox College in just a few hours.

"Imagine if I told that story to the founder of Knox in 1837, or Abe Lincoln," Bates said. "They would have thought I was crazy -- or endowed with supernatural powers."David Bates '78

Our energy consumption has greatly increased since the days of using wood and whale oil for power and light, he said, adding that all of this energy comes at a price. In the past, consumers almost wiped out forests and whale populations due to the amount of demand. Now, after finding ways to conserve those fuels used in the past, we shift our concerns to crude oil consumption and discovering renewable forms of energy.

These new forms of energy cause us to focus concerns on maintaining good relations with countries in the Middle East and other countries involved in the crude oil industry, he said.

In addition to explaining our current energy situation, Bates gave advice to the students who soon will be starting their careers.

"The skills you're going to need are what you're learning here at Knox: writing, learning problem-solving," Bates said. Recounting his days as a student, he relived his Knox spirit saying, "Your Knox days will really help you, it's an amazing life out there...we just have to light some Prairie Fire first."

Knox students said they enjoyed hearing about Bates' experiences.

"Even though Bates was requested (as a campus speaker) by the Pre-Law Club for his involvement in law, what he talked about had a great deal to do with current international affairs, as well as things such as geology and environmental science," explained Armor Wisler, a Knox sophomore from Freienbach, Switzerland. "Energy conservation and finding new resources to match the rate our demands are increasing is a great career now, and it is definitely good to be aware of that."

Wisler added: "It's great to hear alumni talks. You never know what you're going to do when you graduate. I think his case just shows how you can constantly adapt what you study to how the world is changing."

"It also shows how different fields come together, and how at a liberal arts college such as Knox, we are able to try these various domains without them necessarily being the one we are focusing on."