Climber Conrad Anker to Take on Commencement Podium


The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011

Conrad Anker, world-famous climber and mountaineer, has one mission: to climb the toughest and most physically demanding terrain in the world.  University of Utah President David Pershing and the Board of Trustees have announced that the world-renowned mountain climber, filmmaker, author, philanthropist and U alumnus will deliver the 2017 commencement address on Thursday, May 4.

“I want graduates to live in the moment,” Anker said in the U’s press release. “Utahns are known for their kindness and generosity. The goodness that comes from being part of the U community is something that will always be with you and that you can share around the world.”

According to Anker, the commencement speech will investigate how the world has changed since he was on the other side of the podium.

“What responsibilities do we have today that were not present in 1988? What opportunities do we have the good fortune to explore? Hopefully we will all leave inspired and dedicated to making the future a healthier and happier place.”

Anker hopes that he can help the U’s graduating students look to the long-term horizon.  He added that students should “do the right thing for the people who will live 200 years from now.”

The mountaineer plans to speak from the perspective he’s gained through experience.  Anker graduated with a degree in Recreation and Leisure from the U in 1988.  While he attended school, Anker worked for Campus Recreation Services and spent most of his free time climbing.  Anker was successful in his business classes and started the company Kühl, which he sold for $10,000.

“Conrad understands the power and majesty of nature and climbs to better understand both human potential and human limits,” said Daniel Dustin, a professor of outdoor recreation studies at the U, in a recent press release. “His sensibilities, interests and commitments extend far beyond mountain climbing.”

Anker’s achievements include summiting Mount Everest three times, once without supplemental oxygen.  The most well-known of these trips — one which garnered international attention — was his attempt to locate the bodies of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine.

Mallory and Irvine were British climbers who took part in the first three Everest expeditions in the 1920s.  During an attempt to make a first-ascent in 1924, both climbers disappeared on the northeast ridge of the mountain.  They were last seen 800 feet from the vertical summit of the mountain.

Anker and his team retraced the missing climbers’ steps as closely as they could.  On May 1, 1999, they found Mallory’s body protruding out of the snow, well-preserved by the mountain’s frigid air.  Irvine’s body was never found.

That same year Anker lost his friend and climbing partner, Alex Lowe, to an avalanche.  With the company of paragliding champion David Bridges, the two were trying to become the first Americans to ski down the Himalayan giant Shishapangma — an 8,000 meter peak.  A glacier broke and slid out from underneath them during their descent, injuring Anker and killing Lowe and Bridges.

Anker helped Lowe’s wife, Jennifer Lowe, establish a charitable foundation in his name. He later married Jennifer Lowe and adopted her three sons.

“I admire Conrad for his personal qualities as much as his professional achievements,” Dustin said. “He understands life’s challenging nature, and he understands how reacting to adversity tells us more about a person’s character than when things go right.”

The commencement speaker has exemplified fortitude in more than emotional matters.  Anker has faced some of the most physically demanding conditions that have ever been reported.  In 2011, Anker and other members of the North Face’s Climbing Team attempted to summit the Shark’s Fin in Meru, India — one of the last unclimbed Himalayan peaks.

According to the North Face’s website, “The North Face teammates Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk first arrived in India to make an attempt in 2008. Surviving a massive storm on the wall and battling for 19 days through sub zero temperatures with only eight days of food, they ended up 100 meters shy of the elusive 21,000 foot summit.”

Indisputably, Anker has lived an extraordinary life.  In his commencement speech, however, Anker doesn’t want to gush about his achievements or urge students to follow in his footsteps.  He hopes that he can motivate the graduating class of 2017 to do good for the future of this world.  Anker aims to inspire students heading into the workforce to be creative and intelligent, and to consider the generations who will follow them.

On the North Face’s website, Anker is quoted as having said, “For many, alpine climbing is a frivolous and dangerous pursuit. Why embrace the cold in an unrelenting sea of gravity? From my personal perspective I’ll never be able to answer that question. Just knowing that I’m drawn to unknown is enough. If I knew the answer it wouldn’t be the same. It would be easy and boring. The underpinnings of why are tied in with risk, uncertainty, challenge, hardship, courage, determination, fortitude and, through it all, happiness.”

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