Presidents of Reed

Colin S. Diver’s speeches, letters, and articles

Convocation August 24, 2005

Welcoming remarks of President Colin Diver

Colin DiverGood afternoon.

A few weeks ago, I got on an airplane and settled into my seat. The flight attendant announced: "This is flight 376 to Chicago." At that moment, the woman sitting across the aisle exclaimed, "Oh my God," grabbed her briefcase and raced off of the plane.

This incident has prompted me to make the following announcement: This is Reed College. If you were planning to go to Swarthmore, you got on the wrong plane.

But, as Princeton Review would apparently want you to believe: If you're looking for the best academic program in the country, you got on the right plane. But, of course, you know that we pay no attention to rankings whatsoever.

Flight 376 was actually the first leg of a trip to Europe that my wife and I took this past summer. It was a pilgrimage to visit ancient Celtic Christian sites in Scotland and Ireland. We went with 45 other people, most of them perfect strangers. The first evening, our group leader got us together and said: "You don't know each other now, but in the days ahead you will get to know each other very well. I have one instruction: you don't have to like each other, but you have to love each other."

It seemed to me that this is particularly good advice for the incoming students at Reed College. You are, today, strangers. In the weeks and months ahead you will get to know one another very well. You don't have to like each other. But you do have to love each other.

I say this, not out of some soupy sentimentalism, but out of a very hard-headed pragmatism. Reed College is a community of scholars; we are embarked on a voyage of discovery and a voyage of creation. Our task - your task, now -- is to explore existing knowledge, so that we can create new knowledge. The process of discovering and creating knowledge is a collaborative process. It cannot be done in isolation. Forget the romantic image of the lonely scholar struggling in her lonely cell. Knowledge is interactive. You don't really know what you know until you have tested it in the crucible of discussion and debate.

Each of you comes here with a unique set of life experiences, a unique collection of information in your heads, and a unique set of beliefs, convictions, and passions in your hearts. To gain wisdom, to generate knowledge, you must be willing to offer everything you have to that process of exploration and debate. To do that, in turn, you must trust your classmates and your faculty, and you must be trusted by them in turn. You must care about each other enough to put yourself, and everything you think you believe, at risk.

That has been the philosophy at Reed College since its founding nearly a hundred years ago. We look to you, the entering class of 2005, to keep that flame burning brightly.

So, let me say, once again, on behalf of my colleagues on the faculty and the staff, welcome. I'm glad you got on the right plane. You are home.

Colin S. Diver

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