Commencement 2005

President's Welcome

Colin S. Diver
Reed College, May 16, 2005

diver imageWelcome all you mothers and fathers. Welcome all you step-mothers and step-fathers. Welcome you brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. Welcome all you dogs. And other animals. And welcome to the indescribably, unforgettable class of 2005.

At Commencement exercises, college presidents and faculty look out on a sea of expectant graduates and feel that familiar mixture of emotions - pride, relief, sorrow, exhaustion, incredulity.

I do feel all of those emotions this morning. But at the moment - I have to admit - I am mostly just feeling sorry for you. Yes, truly. I am feeling sorry, because I know what you are facing. You are about to go out into a world which you will find alien and strange. It is a world that will not understand you. No one will be impressed at how many term papers you wrote last night. No one will care about your latest interpretation of some obscure Coptic text. People will walk away from you when you try to strike up a conversation at a bar about the sex life of salamanders.

You will encounter a world in which no one wants to share plates of half-eaten food. A world in which people sleep . . . at night, in beds, not in libraries. People use umbrellas. They buy clothing by the piece, not by the pound.

But there is hope for you. And, through that hope, there is hope for the world. When you leave Reed, you will change on the outside. In fact, I've seen it happening already, coincidentally with the arrival of your parents. Yes, you will change on the outside. But, please, please, don't change on the inside. Don't lose that love of ideas, that insatiable curiosity, that discipline of thought, that sense of whimsy that you brought with you when you came, and that you developed during your stay here.

And above all, don't lose that quality of integrity that has characterized all of your actions - well, most of your actions. By integrity, I don't just mean honesty. Yes, of course you should not lie to your mother. You should not lie to the American people, either. You should not steal from the cookie jar. You should not steal from investors, bondholders, and taxpayers, either. But, I mean something more than this. I mean something connoted by the etymology of the word "integrity" - wholeness, completeness, coherence, authenticity. I mean that no belief, or profession of belief, has integrity unless it is embodied in action. I mean that no action has integrity unless it is motivated by reflection. I mean that no reflection has integrity unless it comes from the heart as well as the mind. And I mean that no individual has integrity unless the institutions to which she is committed also have integrity.

Reed is a tiny institution in a very large world - a very large, scary, and disturbing world. But Reed is an institution that can illuminate and humanize that world. It can do this best through you, as its ambassadors in every corner of the outer world, by the example of the integrity you bring to a lifetime of action and service.

Speaking of a lifetime of action and service, it is now my distinct honor and privilege to introduce our commencement speaker, James P. Kahan, Reed College class of 1964. Jim Kahan is, to me, the very embodiment of the kind of integrity that I have just described. He has devoted his professional life, mostly as a researcher for the RAND Corporation, to speaking truth to power. Through rigorous multidisciplinary study and honest reporting of his findings, he has dedicated himself to seeking lasting and just solutions to the pressing problems of our time - problems like determining the appropriateness of medical procedures, balancing safety and environmental protection in flood control, keeping blood supplies safe from contamination, and devising strategies for addressing drug abuse. As a policy analyst, he has learned never to speak without first listening, never to judge without first being willing to be judged, never to hypothesize without testing, never to prescribe without first describing. As evidence of Jim Kahan's integrity, he spent three days on campus this past week, addressing those who criticized his selection as commencement speaker because of the associations between the RAND Corporation and the US Military, and sharing his knowledge, wisdom, humor, and basic humanity with students and faculty of his alma mater.

So . . . please join me in welcoming the 2005 commencement speaker -- Reed alumnus, policy analyst, generalist, connoisseur of Gilbert & Sullivan, folk dancer extraordinaire, and citizen of the world - James Kahan.