On September 14, 2011 I was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts by California State University. The citation reads:
Robert Nathan Danziger is a committed energy
environmentalist, lawyer, inventor and musician. His career linking the sciences, humanities, and the arts
embodies the interdisciplinary values integral to the Vision Statement of
California State University, Monterey Bay.
Mr. Danziger founded the Sunlaw company, reflecting
his interests in alternative energy and law. He has worked in a variety of areas related to his
environmental interests, including for Khosla Ventures (biotechnology due
diligence); for National Semiconductor (smart grid); Goal Line Environmental
Technology (catalysis, nanotechnology); Calera (cement from seawater and CO2);
Gridpoint (smart grid, electric and hybrid vehicles); Google (electric and
hybrid vehicles); Carmel Highlands Inventions (most recent patent, electricity
from the non-carbon portions of coal, acid mine drainage remediation, in situ
coal gasification), and Cogentrix (CO2 management options for coal-fired power
plants focusing on making wood or masonry-substitute materials from greenhouse
As inventor, Mr. Danziger has six issued patents,
including one for a “Walking Chair,” a medical assistive device for individuals
with back problems. In addition,
Mr. Danziger has five music albums to his credit. He has composed several sound sculptures, including 1910
Nocturne, which played as part of the exhibition “Painting by Moonlight” at the
Monterey Museum of Art in 2009, and “Steinbeck’s Chinatown” which debuted in
April 2010, and ran until July 4, 2010, at the National Steinbeck Center in
Salinas. Mr. Danziger has
connected with the CSU Monterey Bay campus in a variety of ways, including his
support of community partnerships in the arts and humanities, and his
participation as a lecturer in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
In recognition of his accomplishments as an innovative
and cross-disciplinary thinker, the Board of Trustees of the California State
University and California State University Monterey Bay are proud to confer
upon Robert Nathan Danziger the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts.
My remarks are reproduced here:
Remarks of Robert Danziger in Connection with Receiving a Honorary Doctor of
Fine Arts from California State University at Monterey Bay
President Harrison &
Provost Cruz-Uribe, Chairman
Bains, Deputy Chairman Waters, Faculty, My wonderful wife Martha, Family and
Friends, thank you for being here.
Dr. Harrison, I recently
learned your career has been dedicated to the study, teaching and practice of
social work. My Mother was a
social worker, and she spoke often in her last few weeks about how fulfilling,
how comforting, how warm it made her feel to have been a social worker, it was
an extremely important part of her life.
My father grew up desperately
poor in a difficult household with a very sick mother. He didn’t have so much as a birthday
party until Mom came along.
Despite his childhood suffering, He and my mother gave my sister Ronna
and I everything we needed to live a successful life. I have to believe he was Mom’s most successful project, and they
broke the chain of poverty and the associated social ills that usually pass
from generation to generation.
Just like social workers try to do every day.
When you called me earlier in
the year to tell me about this honor my mother had recently passed away, and I
told you I would dedicate, and do now dedicate this Honorary Doctor of Fine
Arts to my Mother, Shirley Delores Rotstein Danziger.
I appreciate all the kind
things being said about me. But I
do have one big regret: I did not accomplish one of the most important goals I had
set for myself. This was to
achieve, in my lifetime a kind of universal prosperity, coupled with energy
independence and a clean environment, of the sort we enjoy here in Monterey.
Sunlaw Energy Corporation, the
company I founded, did build and run a real-world commercial, unsubsidized
powerplant, where the air coming out was virtually cleaner than the air going
in – the first and still the only such plant to do so. I composed the music for a documentary about
[building] the plant and amazingly won the New York Film Festival Best Original
Music Award. Sunlaw had a perfect
safety record, hosted a wildly successful kids and professional mural program,
was the first plant ever to achieve 100% reliability – availability, all while
sponsoring the groundbreaking Shades of LA program that collected pre-1960
photographs of all the different ethnic communities in Los Angeles. We made
good paying jobs that didn’t cannibalize other jobs. We set an example that has
yet to be equaled, and cannot be bettered.
To achieve this we had to
take on opposition from all points of the political compass, and the
determined, often threatening opposition of commercial, governmental and
The next generation you are
training will hopefully have a chance to make this kind of performance
commonplace, although partisanship is the enemy of prosperity, the enemy of
energy independence, and most certainly the enemy of a clean environment. For these and many other reasons, I
hope our current political situation changes to make such things prudent and
There’s a famous scene in the
movie “American President” in which an environmental lobbyist played by Annette
Benning, and the President played by Michael Douglas kiss on their first
date. She tells her sister:
I gotta nip this in
the bud. This has catastrophe written all over it. The sister replies: The man is the leader of the free
world. He's brilliant, funny, and handsome. He's an above-average dancer. Isn't
it possible our standards are just a tad high?
Like many in this room,
almost all of us in this room, my goals are a tad high. I know that. I clearly wanted, though, to be a positive footnote in the
history of our time for having achieved a universal dream – prosperity, coupled
with energy independence and a clean environment. I wish I could’ve done that.
I was a funny kid, a giant
kid. In fact I was the biggest
person in school from the 2nd grade on, and was never in a room with someone my
size for over 30 years. Starting
at the age of two, maybe earlier, I was told thousands of times, thousands of
times, I was going to die soon because of my size. Add to that a back broken when I was 18 - - - The cliché is “live
each day as if it were your last.”
The real world effect has been to demand of myself to do all I could, as
completely and wholeheartedly as I could, for as quickly and as long as
I liked this pressure, that’s
the weird thing, I liked this pressure - it worked for me. I came up short
often, but I did learn to muster every side of me to accomplish something big
and tangible. I liked that at any
moment I could honestly stand before any man or God. But in all this I learned how limited I am, how limited all
human beings are, but specifically myself. Somehow or other the mystery of all we don’t know now
I do need to note though,
that even though I was being told I was going to die, I never believed it – and
at this time I would like to note that I was right and they were wrong.
Some have noted the broad
range of areas I have been blessed to make a contribution – My experience as a
musician, a job that requires innovation and invention every working day, made each
new experience, every new area I found a way into, a canvas for my
creativity. A platform for
invention. I love that.
Maybe my biggest break was
getting the job at California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory. JPL at Cal-tech was a
truly elite think tank that I’m told had,
and I believe still has, more triple PhD’s than anywhere else in the world, and
at the time was the Lead Center for all alternative energy research in the United
States. I had no undergraduate
degree, a second level law degree, and had only gotten through high school by
the grace of God and the tolerance of the school administration. I want to thank Mr. Tunney who is here
today, and thank you for overlooking a few of those things, I appreciate
it. [audience laughs] - That’s a knowing laugh from my
Because of my law review
articles on solar energy I was invited to give a seminar at JPL – the first
step in their hiring practices. I
prepared my talk “The Legal Implications of a 1 Megawatt Solar Power Plant”
very much like the one up the hill here at CSUMB. Unbeknownst to me JPL
had just received a contract to write a report for Congress on “The Legal
Implications of a 1 Megawatt Solar Power Plant.” The same exact title, it was a pure coincidence, but they
decided to overlook my relative lack of credentials and hire me. When I got the job Dean Friesen of my
law school told me, “When one of these guys is telling you the nature of the
universe or predicting the future, if they are not floating 6 inches above the
ground it’s just an opinion.” He
told me my opinion was as good as anybody else’s. That was really great advice.
After a couple of years at
Jet Propulsion Laboratory I started planning for my alternative energy company
Sunlaw Energy Corporation.
At that time there was not a single successful alternative energy
company in the US, maybe the world.
The 16 PhD economists who I worked with at JPL urged me not to be the
The cliché is that the
pioneers get the arrows. The
functional problem was the virtual non-existence of experienced banks, lawyers,
accountants, insurance agents, libraries, training programs, college courses, engineers,
builders, regulators, utilities, or ways to reliably measure ultra-low
emissions. It all had to be
created, it all had to be invented, and whoever was the first company had to
lead these efforts. Who else can?
I waited as three companies got
into the business, then JPL converted me to a consultant and I started
Sunlaw. Within 6 months all three
of the companies ahead of me had gone bankrupt. I was out there all alone. It was very naked and very windy.
But inventing all day, every
day, felt completely natural to me, because of my background in music, and
being taught to invent on a schedule at JPL. JPL gave me a front row seat to experience what might
be judged the greatest invention and engineering achievement of the 20th
century when they sent the Voyager spacecraft one billion miles to Saturn and
were less than 1/10th of a second behind schedule and just a few
feet off course. I challenge us to
drive home that well. At a billion
I lucked into a rare moment
and became sought after by institutions that would never deal with someone like
me as the industry matured. Sunlaw
was jazz, sculpture, and performance art.
I was 27, the youngest CEO in the alternative energy business anywhere
in the world, and I was born to do this.
I do want to note for the
record there were about 20 people on the front lines with me, I wasn’t truly
alone, but I was the leader in the early days, and the key decisions were mine
In conclusion I have many
things to be grateful for. Such a
- Founding and running an energy company that caused
worldwide emissions and energy consumption to be reduced by billions of tons,
has made the world cleaner than if I had not come along.
- I got to work with a great team, and be their
- I got to build some really big stuff. I’m a guy, love big tools. What can I tell ya, I love stuff like
that, love things that make big noises and go boom. I like that stuff.
That was fun.
- And thank God I was given the inventiveness and
determination to prosper despite my physical challenges.
I leave you with the story of
the most beautiful thing I ever saw.
It was at the Vernon Elementary School that Sunlaw had adopted. The poorest school in the school
district in the dirtiest zip code in the United States. We had a career day where we brought in
world-class professionals from every continent to come and talk with the
kids. The president of Disney or
the head of the Chilean phone company, great musicians, businessmen and women,
magicians, academics and artists.
We asked them to speak for five minutes about their family and in the
next five minutes give a professional presentation just like they would to
their most esteemed colleagues. When they talked of their families it created
an emotional connection to everyone there, and these hardened world-class pros
would spends hours, sometimes many days, with the children. The kids loved it and I loved it too.
One day Martha and I went
over to the school, and the students in the Special Education class took us
into their room and closed the door.
They positioned themselves on the empty floor. The teacher put on an angelic toy piano version of “White
Christmas.” And they began to
dance. A young girl whose body
twisted permanently to the side balanced herself against a challenged boy who
could stand straight and proud, and he beamed while she danced as if around the
maypole. Several other groups of
kids also combined to make their bent bodies part of classic arrangements
moving in tme with the music. It
was what every artist seeks – a perfect moment.
I found out the teacher, this
hero, [note: The Teacher's name is Adriana Moran] had looked through hours and hours of ballet and other dance videos, to
find world-class dances that used positions that her students were born
to. She showed these kids the
beauty in their bodies, where society was telling them they were ugly and
unwanted, and they did it, they found the universal beauty in themselves. It was the most touching dance I have
ever seen, and not because they were handicapped kids, it’s because it was just
President Harrison, this
University and this place we live in is a special place, a blessed place. We are singing a great song,
harmonizing with generations past and generations yet unborn.
Let's keep the music flowing. Thank
you for this opportunity to do a brief solo.
**note: sections in italics were accidentally omitted from the actual speech.