But there is more that we can do, much more. An
education for creativity is an education of inquiry, of search, of ceaseless
questioning. We boast about our conference method of teaching and our
thesis requirement, and with good reason. But we must, all of us, every
day, examine the reality that lies behind the mythology. In the end, there
is only good teaching and bad teaching. Every method of teaching—lecture,
problem-solving, role-playing, conference—can be done well or badly.
Our approach to teaching must be always to stimulate students to challenge
assumptions, justify conclusions, and formulate testable hypotheses. Every
day in every class, students must be encouraged to muse, to ponder, to
wonder, to test, and to defend.
Likewise, the senior thesis requirement must always be seen for what it
really is—not the caboose at the end of a four-year long train,
but the engine that drives virtually everything else in the curriculum.
Our job is to transform high school graduates into people who can formulate
a genuinely original and challenging research question, who can then investigate
that question against a background of both disciplinary mastery and methodological
diversity, and who can open their minds to the possibility of inspiration.
I wish I could guarantee that there is, somewhere in this audience—or
over there in the library—a future Virginia Woolf or Igor Stravinsky,
Marie Curie or Niels Bohr, Martha Graham or Mahatma Gandhi. But of course
I cannot. The privilege to achieve creative genius will be afforded to
only a few. Invisible genes and blind luck will have a lot to say about
which few. Yet, if we look at the achievements of Reed graduates, we see
hundreds of people who, by their ingenuity and insight, have made a lasting
impact on our world. We see graduates who have invented the compact disc
and the oscilloscope, who have made pioneering contributions to conceptual
art, beat poetry, punk music, and mime theater, who have created computer
virus-protection and mind-amplifying software, who have synthesized cancer-fighting
drugs and articulated the structure of repressor molecules.
So, if we do our job right, we will wake up some day, years from
now, and realize that it was someone in this audience—or
in the library—who found the last piece in the puzzle of voice-recognition
software. It was someone in this audience who developed a new musical
style that somehow fuses Bach counterpoint with hip-hop rhythms. It was
someone in this audience who learned how to repair damaged neurons. And,
maybe, it was even someone in this audience who showed the world how the
engine of capitalism can be yoked to an ethic of caring.
That vision is ambitious. But it is hardly fanciful. It is, after all,
a simple extrapolation from our adolescent past and our invigorating present.
So, I conclude in the obvious way: In the spirit of creativity, that is
to say, mastery, versatility, passion, curiosity, and—most of all—playfulness,
let the future—and the party—begin.