Commencement 2004

President's Remarks

Colin S. Diver
Reed College, May 17, 2004

Diver at podium

So, is the rumor true? Are you really leaving us? You've had your last double espresso from the Paradox Café? You've been to your last fetish ball? You've paid off your library fines and your bar tab at the Lutz? You've read your last Quest? (That assumes, of course, that you ever read ANY Quests.) Your parents have given you . . .their last red cent?

Well, we'll miss you. And I'm sure you'll miss us. Yes, believe it or not, the day will come when you will miss Reed.

 

Most of you probably think you are at last escaping "THE BUBBLE." At last you get to break through its impermeable skin and see what lies in the great wide world outside.

You're in for a surprise. There is no great wide world. Everything is a bubble. You're just going from one bubble to another. Graduate schools are bubbles. So are law schools, science labs, elementary schools, hospitals, art galleries, banks. The Pentagon. The White House. Abu Gharib Prison. They are all bubbles.

Of course not all bubbles are the same. Some will grow and thrive, others will shrivel and die. We are reminded of that fact - rather poignantly - today. On this date, May 17, 1954, the bubble known as Jim Crow segregation began to die, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court's historic decision in Brown versus Board of Education. The business of that decision remains sadly unfinished, but the institution that it condemned is forever dead.

Some bubbles grow stronger. Some shrivel and die. The difference is what's kept inside, and what is kept outside - what is celebrated and what is demeaned, what is remembered and what is forgotten.

You undoubtedly remember these lines:

Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus, and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians . . .

Why do we make you study ancient texts like the Iliad? Well, consider a somewhat more modern translation of the lines I just read:

Sing, CNN, the anger of George H.W.'s son George W., and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Yankees . . .

Why do we study ancient texts? To learn timeless lessons. To encounter timeless truths -- about our humanity - and about our inhumanity. Reed is a bubble that holds out the promise of preserving, rather than destroying, memory -- of celebrating, rather than diminishing, humanity.

So as you enter the next in life's succession of bubbles, cling to what is precious and rare about Reed College. Remember it for the perfection of its ambitions, if not for the imperfection of its daily struggles. And help us, when we wander from the path, to remember where we came from and whom we aspire to be.

Speaking of aspirations, our commencement speaker is an embodiment of whom we aspire to be. Arwen Isaac Davé, class of 1989, artist, engineer, dreamer, pragmatist, a designer on the International Space Station.

In my Inaugural address two years ago - which all of you undoubtedly still remember word for word -- I expressed my aspiration that Reed College would produce - quote -- "artistically literate scientists, and scientifically literate artists." I didn't know it at the time, but I was talking about Arwen Davé.

In her senior thesis, Arwen explored the problems encountered by a children's book illustrator. How, she asked, can one illuminate both the author's intentions and the reader's interpretations? As often happens to students during the thesis experience, Arwen discovered something fundamental about creativity, possibility, the unexpected, and herself.

"I've been looking at art backwards," she wrote, "by looking at the finished product and then trying to figure out the process behind it. The most important thing to me is not the process but the finished product."

Now, as an engineer designing the space station, Arwen finds that her early acknowledgement still holds true: Process is, of course, important-enormously so in the field of aerospace engineering. But her focus lies in the finished product. She confesses that she literally jumps for joy when she sees her team's "hardware" actually fly. By enabling a permanent human presence in space, she is, as she says, producing "hope for the future" of humanity.

After leaving Reed with her degree in art, Arwen earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and she is pursuing her Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering at Stanford while working on the space station. She is already a holder of three patents.

Arwen finds that her background in art and physics has been the perfect foundation for the career she has forged. "It was Reed that taught me I could do pretty much anything I chose in life," she says, "and that gave me the skills to do something I love."

Please welcome our 2004 Commencement speaker, Arwen Isaac Davé.

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