Commencement 2012

President’s Welcome

Remarks of Colin S. Diver

Reed College, May 14, 2011

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Good morning. My name is Colin Diver and I am still the president of Reed College. Before we start I would like to thank our signers for working so hard.

I am every year amazed at the size of the crowd! Welcome, parents and grandparents, welcome, sisters and brothers, welcome, aunts, uncles, in-laws, and outlaws. It takes a village to send a kid to Reed. We are thrilled to have you all here with us, to share this moment of triumph and celebration. Welcome to Reed College Commencement 2012.

And to those of you from out of town, welcome to Portlandia. I assume many of you have seen the TV show. You know, Portland really doesn’t need a television show to make fun of it. It does a perfectly good job of making fun of itself. It really is true that all the local restaurants serve only happy, well-educated, free-range chickens, and many of them are named Colin, including all the chickens you ate last night, but they way. And it is true that Portland is the city where young people go to retire. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. Actually Portland is where young people go to get a college degree—and then they retire. I wish I’d known that 47 years ago, but hey it’s never too late.

I’ve been feeling suitably nostalgic about finally graduating Reed. I know most of you in the class of 2012 were on the four-year plan; I understand there is one of you who was on the eight-year plan. What? The twenty-five-year plan? Well, I was only on the ten-year plan. Some of us are a little slow. But, like you, I’m finally done. I’ve paid off my library fines. I even finished my PE requirement. Yes, we provide physical education here at Reed. How did I satisfy the PD requirement? They gave me credit for hugging 298 champagne-soaked thesis paraders. That’s harder work than relaxation yoga or some of those other wimpy things you guys got credit for. And, of course, I also finished my own thesis! At my orals, the faculty said polite things about it, even though I knew it was pretty awful. I’m sure many of you know the feeling . . .

So you and I will be leaving dear old Reed. When you think about it, we really have a lot in common. Beneath my stodgy and boring exterior, I really am a wild and crazy guy. Yarr! And beneath your wild and crazy exteriors, you really are . . . pretty boring, actually.

Here we are together, about to go out into the world. The world is not ready for us. The world has these crazy ideas—like that sunshine is good and rain is bad. The world thinks that people should sleep . . . at night. And take showers every day. When you go out into the world, you will discover that a lot of things are overrated. Like law school. (I can speak from experience, there.) Or grad school. Or the Ivy League. Or any school other than Reed! But also overrated and in some cases overpriced are Facebook, Apple, and Google. You will discover that even the New York Yankees are wildly overrated. It grieves me to say, so are the Red Sox.

Anyway, here we are, ending our time together, and celebrating something called commencement. Strange word. The term commencement comes, by a tortured pathway, from the Latin “com - initiare”—to initiate together. It seems straightforward: here we are, together, beginning the next phase of our lives. But it’s odd, when you think of it. Because this is literally the last time we will be together. And most of us don’t have a clue what we are initiating. At least I don’t.

The question is what can we initiate, here and now, in the dying moments of our togetherness, before we go our separate ways? I would like to suggest three things we can initiate together: forgiveness, gratitude, and love. These are all acts, attitudes, sentiments that can be shared, in fact, must be shared. It’s not too late. We can forgive each other. We can thank each other. And we can love each other.

Forgiveness. In our time together, we have undoubtedly wounded each other, perhaps deliberately, most likely unintentionally. Perhaps we have forgotten those wounds. But have we forgiven them? As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” We’ve been through the weak phase of our lives. Now we can let ourselves be strong. We can forgive.

Gratitude. Far more important and numerous than the wounds are the gifts we have given each other over the last four—or twenty-five—years. Gratitude is, in Cicero’s words, “not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” For the privilege of having been here in this place, at this college, surrounded by these people, you and I have so much to be thankful for. Let’s start, today, now, to celebrate that good fortune by feeling gratitude and by expressing gratitude.

And love. We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that Reed is only about knowledge. Aquinas said, “Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.” I think Aquinas was wrong. I think love precedes knowledge. Love is the emotional framework we hang knowledge on. Reed teaches that love is real and powerful. And it is okay to talk about it. So let me say this: I have loved this college, its brilliant creations, its zany authenticity, its profound humaneness, its faith in our untapped potential, its demands for excellence and its abiding belief in honor. And I have loved its faculty, I have loved its staff, and I have loved its students for making it that way and challenging me every day—for transforming me from the person who arrived here ten years ago into the person I have become. I suspect you feel the same way and I certainly hope you do. So, now, today, together, let us experience that feeling of love. And let us express it in the joy of this moment.

Forgiveness, gratitude, love. What we begin together, now, will persist and sustain us as we travel the planet on our personal pathways, our personal odysseys, until we return, finally, like Odysseus, to our personal Ithaca. And then, and only then, we will be home. Yes, we will be separate and apart. But we will always be Reedies.

Thank you, and Godspeed.

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And now it gives me great pleasure to introduce our commencement speaker, Robert Smith, class of 1989. As an NPR reporter, Robert Smith does magnificently what we all strive to do in our lives: create meaning out of disorder. Just as a painter tries to create meaning out of pigment, a sculptor out of form, a poet out of words, Robert Smith creates meaning out of sounds. His job – which he does so well – is to take the messy, disorganized stuff of human experience, tape it, select it, organize it, describe it, and distill it into an experience of enlightenment or enchantment. He has shared with us reflections on his craft in the collection of Reed centennial essays called Thinking Reed, and I am delighted that he is here to share his reflections with us at this commencement. Please join me in welcoming Robert Smith.

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Conferral of Bachelor of Arts Degrees: Divisions
Upon the recommendation of the faculty of Reed College and by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees, I hereby confer upon the students of this Division the Degree of Bachelor of Arts, with all the rights and privileges thereunto appertaining.

Interdisciplinary Majors
Upon the recommendation of the faculty of Reed College and by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees, I hereby confer upon these candidates the Degree of Bachelor of Arts, with all the rights and privileges thereunto appertaining.

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies
Upon the recommendation of the faculty of Reed College and by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees, I hereby confer upon these candidates the Degree of Master of Arts, with all the rights and privileges thereunto appertaining.


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