Commencement 2011

President’s Welcome

Remarks of Colin S. Diver

Reed College, May 23, 2011

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Good morning and welcome to Reed's version of the Royal Wedding. I guess that would make me . . . um, I was about to say the Archbishop of Canterbury, but that's not right. No. I guess that would make me . . . Queen Elizabeth. Come to think of it, the analogy isn't so far-fetched. Like the Queen, I am the ceremonial figurehead of a realm over which I have absolutely no control. Like Her Majesty, I am sort of a mother figure to a large, sometimes dysfunctional family, whose members' misbehavior seems to be an object of endless media fascination. And like the Queen, I think I really do look pretty good in pink.

Speaking of royalty, I have also been paying a lot of attention lately to Donald Trump. So much so, in fact, that we decided to make an important change in this year's commencement ceremony. Instead of handing out diplomas, we've decided to give you birth certificates. I mean, it is called "commencement," after all. The only problem is that you, the graduates, will have to wait another 21 years until you can drink legally. But, hey, that never stopped you before, did it?

So in thinking about the soupçon of advice I would try to impart to the class of 2011—by far the greatest class that has graduated this year—I decided to take my theme from what I consider to be the greatest of musical compositions for a graduation ceremony. No I'm not talking about Sir Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstances March, nor Johannes Brahms's Academic Festival Overture. I'm talking about Paul McCartney's song, "You Never Give Me Your Money," released on the album Abbey Road—which I still think is the best Beatles album. Abbey Road was released in 1969, when I was just a little older than most of you, which means that at least the grandparents in the audience will remember it. (By the way, I know I'm getting old when even your parents look young to me. Something else I have in common with Queen Elizabeth.) Anyway, there is a stanza in McCartney's song that goes like this:

Out of college, money spent,
see no future, pay no rent,
all the money's gone, nowhere to go. . .
But oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go!

Of course, the "all the money's gone" part applies to your parents. But I want to focus on the "oh that magic feeling, nowhere to go" part. Yes, oh that magic feeling, nowhere to go. You will wake up tomorrow, maybe in the morning, and have nowhere to go. For the first time in a long time, you won't need to race across campus balancing a bagel and cup of coffee, late to class. You won't need to head off to the laboratory to run one more gel, or trudge to the library to confront that stack of unread books. No need to plan your costume for the fetish ball or jockey for position at the scrounge table.

Oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go. There is a magic in having nowhere to go, having literally nothing you have to do. It is the kind of magic that opens clogged neural pathways to receive inspiration, perhaps a glimpse of truth. This, I suspect, is what T.S. Eliot was referring to in his poem "Burnt Norton," when he wrote:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is. . . .
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving . . . .

I love that phrase, "a grace of sense." I always want to read it as "a sense of grace." That is how the Archbishop of Canterbury would read it. But no. Eliot meant what he wrote: that moment of grace when your senses are fully alive. That's what you have, right now.

In this, our centennial year, we celebrate many people who made Reed great. One of them is Lloyd Reynolds, the Reed professor, calligrapher, and humanist. There is an exhibition in the Cooley Gallery on Reynolds' life and work. If you have the time, you should go to see it. The program for that exhibition contains this quotation from his 1968 commencement address:

By developing all of our potentialities we might become human, we might even learn to let go, to ride the flux as plants do . . . . Change, being what it is, we are going to lose everything anyhow; so what do have we to lose? Why don't we, then, drop the hostilities and just live? The whole universe is at our doorstep; all we have to do is open the door.

Reynolds understood magic, and through his work he made magic. And through his teaching and his example, he inspired hundreds of Reedies and Portlanders to make magic.

So to the class of 2011, welcome to a magical moment in your over-programmed lives. Moments like this come along all too rarely. A window opens. The universe opens up. At the still point of the turning world. You have such a moment now. It will not last. The window will close. You will again have somewhere to go, I promise you. You will soon enough feel the tug of the inner and the outer compulsion. Hostilities or at least anxieties will return.

But for now, for that fleeting moment, enjoy the magic. Relish it. And pass it on.

Thank you.

Now it is my pleasure and privilege to introduce our commencement speaker, Pamela Cox, Reed College class of 1975. As you can see from the biographical sketch in the program, Pamela has devoted her entire career to serving the people of the developing world, as an agricultural, environmental, and developmental economist at the World Bank. Through her work at the World Bank, she has lifted up the lives of millions of people, from sub-Saharan Africa, to Latin America, to the Caribbean, to Southeast and East Asia. She has seen the fruits of her work in the fields and villages and faces of those people. She has undoubtedly experienced many moments of magic in her life, and she has given moments of magic to many, many others. We are proud to call her a daughter of Reed College, and thrilled to welcome her back.

Please join me in welcoming our 2011 Commencement speaker, Pamela Cox.