Presidents of Reed

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

Convocation August 23, 2006

Welcoming remarks of President Colin Diver

Good afternoon.

This is Reed College. . . . Well, of course it's Reed College. What else could it possibly be? Notwithstanding Newsweek magazine, we are not a member of the Ivy League. We have never been a member of the Ivy League. We consider ivy an invasive species. We do our best to eradicate it.

We are, as we like to say, in a league of our own.

You have all heard, probably too many times, that ours is a knowledge-based economy, indeed a knowledge-based culture. In the terms of sociologist Richard Florida, most of the job growth in the United States is in the creative sector, whose occupants comprise what he calls the creative class. These are the designers, performers, inventors, scientists, software engineers, teachers, planners, problem-solvers who build on the platform of existing knowledge to create new ideas. A century ago, right about the time Reed College was founded, only five percent of jobs in the American economy were located in the creative sector. Today, according to Florida, that figure is 30 percent and rising rapidly.

You have also probably heard, more often than you would like, that the world is flat. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman tells us in his book of that title, international barriers to the transmission of ideas, capital, and labor are crumbling. America's place as the world's dominant producer is being challenged by China and India, by Brazil and Russia and Chile and Singapore and Korea and Malaysia. Together, those countries have already surpassed us as the world's great producers of things. Now they are rising to challenge us as the world's producer of ideas.

What do these facts have to do with you? And what do they have to do with Reed College? According to both Florida and Friedman, they mean that, for most of us mere mortals, there is only one effective strategy for professional success in this flat creative new world - and that is to train our minds and our hearts to become creators of knowledge. We must develop the skills of intellectual proficiency and versatility. We must master the methodologies and literatures of the great intellectual disciplines -- the arts, the humanities, social science, mathematics and natural science. And we must practice those skills endlessly, relentlessly. Write. Calculate. Analyze. Hypothesize. Perform. Synthesize. Experiment. Create.

A century ago, when the world seemed far younger, simpler, and more innocent, a group of academics founded Reed College on precisely those principles. They were, perhaps, ahead of their time. They rebelled against the excesses of the old Ivy League: the three dreaded Fs -- football, fraternities, and frivolity. (You may have noticed that we have none of the first two, quite a bit of the last.) They anticipated a world that needed, not conformism, but rebellion, not convention, but critique, not the constraints of the practical, but the magnetic power of dreams harnessed to beautiful ideas.

We're still here, it's what we do. Now, it's yours for the taking. Grasp the opportunity. Welcome.

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