President's Welcome

Remarks of Colin S. Diver

Reed College, May 14, 2007

Good morning. I am happy to add my welcome-and my congratulations-to the great Reed College Class of 2007! I ask the graduating class to join me in thanking two groups who made your presence here today possible: First, those who literally gave you life and love and guidance and tuition, your families and friends. And second, those whose inspiration and dedication has left a lasting imprint on your intellectual development, the Reed College faculty.

Well, it's over. As my grandmother used to say on Thanksgiving night, we've loved having you stay, now it's time to leave. We need to clean the kitchen, put the food away, straighten the furniture. And we want you to begin digesting this enormous meal you have just eaten. Give yourself time. Go back home to your loved ones, reclaim your bedrooms, raid the refrigerator, become a couch potato, leave your dirty laundry in piles around the house. I'm sure your parents will welcome you back with open arms . . . for at least a week.

You have spent the last four years in one of the world's most privileged and sheltered environments. But in fact, as I'm sure you are well aware, that impression of privilege and shelter is just an illusion. We are all-here at Reed, and wherever your path will take you-part of one world. And it is a world of staggering contradictions.

Corporate executives and hedge fund managers own houses larger than hotels, while a billion people try to survive on one dollar a day. While life expectancy grows toward 100 in the so-called first world, millions of children die of starvation or disease in the third world. Religious and ethnic pride builds communities-and destroys nations. Economic progress lifts standards of living to unimaginable levels, and simultaneously generates a stew of greenhouse gases that are literally cooking our planet.

These things are not new. But their magnitude is new. Their immediacy is new. And the sheer force of their presence in our quotidian lives is new. I grew up in a corner of America blissfully oblivious of the world's-and indeed of America's-agonies. No longer. It is the gift of my generation to yours to have destroyed oblivion. To have destroyed innocence. There are no safe havens left, not even Reed College. The world outside seeps through our walls, our cell phones and computers, our windows and water pipes, our food supply, into our bloodstreams, and into our souls. The great accomplishment of the world during my lifetime is to bring human tragedy and human triumph to everyone's doorstep.

But that same accomplishment has also brought human responsibility to everyone's doorstep. It has made us aware that we truly are responsible for everyone else. We are asked, every one of us, to consider the footprints we leave behind during our brief visit to this planet. There is much talk these days about our carbon footprint. Consider the food we eat, the water we drink, the structures that house us, the energy we consume. What contribution do each of us make to the capacity of our environment to sustain life? Do we poison the earth or do we enrich it? Do we deplete its resources or do we replenish them?

So, too, it seems to me, we are being asked, every one of us, to consider our moral footprint, our justice footprint, if you will. Consider the actions we take in our daily lives, in our spoken and written words, even in our private beliefs and thoughts. Do we foster a world that is more just, or a world that is less just? Do we consume the world's scarce moral resources, or do we invest in and strengthen those resources?

You, the graduates of this college, have the undoubted intellectual and cognitive capacity to understand the kind of footprint you will leave on the earth, to know whether your actions will move the world backward toward death, or forward toward life. I pray that you, that all of us, will use that capacity to choose life. Thank you.

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And now, it is my pleasure to introduce the alumnus selected by this year's graduating class to be your commencement speaker, Bill Hohengarten. Following his graduation from Reed in 1984, Bill pursued graduate study in philosophy. After years of wrestling with Marx and Hegel, Wittgenstein and Habermas, Bill opted to go to law school. He clerked on the Supreme Court and became a lawyer specializing in appellate work. Through his work, both in everyday commercial matters, and in path-breaking pro bono cases such as Lawrence v. Texas, Bill has already made a lasting mark on his world. Poised as he once was to become a philosopher-king, he chose instead to become a philosopher-servant. Please join me in welcoming a man who has been exquisitely aware of his own moral footprint, Bill Hohengarten.