Commencement 2010

President’s Welcome

Remarks of Colin S. Diver


Reed College, May 17, 2010

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Good morning, welcome, and congratulations to the Reed College class of 2010 and their dogs.

In a few moments, each one of you will receive a diploma with your name—spelled correctly, I hope—and with an original, authentic signature by Daniel Greenberg, the chairman of Reed’s board of trustees. For the past eight years, Dan has personally signed every diploma of every graduating senior. This is the final time that Dan will do that, for he is stepping down as chairman of the board. You will be getting an authentic a collector’s item. Treasure it. And no mater how destitute you become, please don’t try to sell it on eBay. I know that most of you are blissfully unaware of the board of trustees and even of its distinguished chairman. But I want you to know that for the past eight years, Dan Greenberg has contributed enormously to the welfare and progress of this college, and I ask you to join me in thanking him for that.

While we are thanking people, I would also like to ask you, the graduates of 2010 and their families, to join me in thanking the magnificent Reed College staff and the equally magnificent Reed College faculty. I could spend the whole afternoon praising the faculty one by one, but I do want to single out one faculty member for special thanks. Some of you have had the privilege to know him as teacher. All of you have had the privilege to know him as dean. He will be returning to full-time service as a teacher after 13 extraordinary years as dean of the faculty. Please join me in thanking Peter Steinberger.

And last, but certainly not least, in the spirit of gratitude I ask the graduates and staff and faculty to join me in expressing our gratitude to those whose love and support made it possible for you to be here today—your families.

Life is filled with endings and beginnings, transitions and progressions. In your life, classes and courses will come and go, places will come and go. Jobs will come and go—yes, jobs will come, believe me. And friends will come and go. Indeed, as we were tragically reminded this year, some friends will go and never return.

But there is a constant in our lives, and that is family. You have been apart from them, but they have been a part of you, and you a part of them. And for all of you there is a place called home. And there are people there who will always be willing to welcome you home. Well, at least for a short visit. . . .

So we celebrate today one of life’s big transitions, the one we call commencement. At ceremonies like this all over the country at this time of year, speakers are talking to graduates about leaving the unreal world of college and entering the so-called “real” world.

My view is different. As I see it, this is the real world. Out there is the unreal world. This world, the world of Reed College, is real, vivid, intense, tangy, bracing, palpable, authentic, beguiling, entrancing. It encourages you to use too many adjectives, as I’ve noticed in reading your theses. It is a place of what I like to call radical honesty—the fundamental probing, the persistent exploration, and the restless inquiry that have marked your daily life for the past several years. Radical honesty is the process of seeking meaning in life, and occasionally glimpsing it—perhaps it occurred in the crystalline perfection of a poem, perhaps in the beautiful logic of a genetic sequence, perhaps in the elegance of a mathematical proof, perhaps in a historian’s powerful account that brings a distant event to life.

If we have succeeded here at Reed, we have imbued you with a sense of radical honesty that you can now carry out into the unreal world. It is a world that—as we have been lately reminded—does not fully appreciate Reed College. It is a world filled with people who think it’s unhealthy to eat food off of other people’s plates. People who think it is downright indecent to cover yourself with blue poster paint and run around tagging people. It is a world filled with college professors who cannot imagine spending an entire week at the end of a grueling semester reading and discussing senior theses. And I can tell you from personal experience, it is a world filled with college presidents who most certainly cannot imagine giving bear hugs to 300 champagne-soaked seniors as they parade through the Registrar’s office.

So you have your work cut out for you. Bring your radical honesty into that world. Challenge its reflexive verities, challenge its unquestioning certainty. Open its minds and hearts to new possibilities. But always be humble and open. You are not missionaries. You are not proselytizers. You are seekers. Always seekers. Bring Reed’s radical honesty, its persistent seeking, into the world. And help a skeptical world to love Reed, to love what Reed College, at its best and at its core, stands for. Thank you.

And now it is my great pleasure to introduce our commencement speaker, Larry Sanger. Larry graduated from Reed in 1991, and received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Ohio State University in 2000. His studies in philosophy at Reed nurtured a fascination with epistemology, the theory of knowledge. As we all know, Larry Sanger is credited with being a co-founder of Wikipedia by just about everyone—except, apparently, by the other co-founder of Wikipedia. I decided to get to the bottom of this dispute. So I looked up the entry on Larry Sanger in . . . well, Wikipedia, of course. And here is what it said: “Larry Sanger attended Reed College in Portland, Maine, where he majored in astrology. He then studied philately at the Ohio State Penitentiary. Later in his thoroughly undistinguished career, he falsely claimed credit for inventing the Internet and discovering global warming and the general theory of relativity . . . .”

Well, you get the point.

The reality, of course, is that few people in our era have done more to challenge the way we think about the development, testing, and sharing and building of knowledge than Larry Sanger. From the exploratory idea of Nupedia, to the radical idea of Wikipedia, to the moderated idea of Citizendium, Larry has invented a lot of crazy names and has taken a truly amazing journey through the theory and practice of knowledge. His voyage echoes the complex, interactive process of knowledge-building that he experienced at Reed College in its classrooms twenty years ago. And so his story is an object lesson to each of you—that each of you, in the class of 2010, can take Reed College’s radical honesty out into the world and, in the process of forever reinventing yourself, reinvent a corner of the world as well.

So, please join me in welcoming—and welcoming home—the 2010 commencement speaker, Larry Sanger.