Led by bagpipes through a warm spring downpour, a processional of 304 capped-and-gowned Reedies assembled on the campus front lawn, where Colin Diver began the May 16 commencement exercises for the class of 2005.
Diver warned the graduates that they were about to head off into a world in which they would be largely misunderstood—in which people don’t sleep in libraries, and no one is impressed by term papers or the latest interpretation of an obscure Coptic text. In this new world, he said, “people will walk away from you when you try to strike up a conversation in a bar about the sex life of salamanders.”
But, said Diver, there is hope for Reedies. “Reed is a tiny institution in a very large world—a very large, scary, and disturbing world. 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.”
Exemplifying such a lifetime of action and service was this year’s commencement speaker, RAND Europe senior lead researcher James P. Kahan ’64. Kahan is internationally known for his innovative, interdisciplinary approach to research in individual and group decision-making and a wide variety of public policy issues.
“Reed fosters risk taking,” said Kahan. “At Reed, I was able to explore everything from mathematics to religion to folk dancing to bridge. In my senior year, I not only wrote a thesis in psychology, but I took a year’s worth of Shakespeare and a semester’s worth of philosophy of religion. . . . At Reed, I learned to have the courage of my convictions and not to be limited by disciplinary or other boundaries.
“Reed College has—in its own unique way—taught you how to think. You have received a liberal education, with breadth, but also depth in your thesis topic. The depth gives you a place to stand and the breadth gives you a long lever. So, to paraphrase Archimedes, when you choose the world you want to move, wherever it might be, you have the potential to move it.
“Reed has helped you discover and confirm your values, which tell you which world you need to choose and what risks you need to take. Whether other people consider it a big world or a little world does not matter—it will be a world that is important to you. Whether you stand inside the system or outside the system when you apply your lever does not matter—you can think your way through to finding the best place to stand. And whether, ultimately, your risky efforts fully succeed or not does not matter—what is important is knowing that you have done what you could do. And at the end of the day, you will have made a difference.”