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哥大校長2019畢業演講:當消極天性被激活,唯有深層思想能實現生活價值

發布:2019-06-25 09:44分享:

尊敬的各位教員、校友、家人、朋友,以及全球正關注于此的客人們,我謹代表校董事會,歡迎大家相聚在這一特殊的時刻。今天,我們延續著一個擁有265年歷史的傳統,在驕傲、希望、深邃且永無止境的好奇心中彼此聯結。


我們將視野開豁、樂于思辨的人,將探索未知力量的人,將因掌握智慧而承擔重任的人,吸納進哥大這個志在創造更美好世界的社群中。今天之后,將有來自18個學院的學子跟隨前人的步伐,他們明日的潛能無限可期。


在這一重要時刻,有一群特別的人需要專門被提及。畢業生們,雖然作為你們的老師,我們對你們懷著深深的喜愛,但沒有什么能夠與你們的父母和家人給予你們的純粹、毫無保留的愛意匹及。雖然你們永遠都無法完全表達內心無限的感激,我知道你們的感受,但也請用這個機會來感謝他們。


今天我的演講將分為三個部分,我想要談一談學院的意義,探索真理道路上的敵人,以及我們應該如何應對。


大學本身即關乎思想


在為你們頒授各自領域的學位證書后,我們認可了你們的學術成就,并認同你們在某一領域內的專業學識。但現在你們同時也成為了美國高等教育中的學者,因為你們在過去幾年中身處并積極參與了這個小小的世界。


這意味著兩件事。


首先,無論你因離開哥大感到高興或難過,無論你是否計劃再次成為一名學生,又或者你打算在未來的某個時刻帶著教授的頭銜回來、成為這個社群中永久的一員,我都能做如下保證:你們剛剛經歷過的一切,將會跟隨你們的一生,并極有可能隨著時間的流逝變得越來越重要。


第二件事,是我希望你們能在這個早晨思考你們對大學的角色和本質的理解,我想請你們運用你們的知識,反思當今社會現狀,我們所面對的威脅,以及什么是支撐這些學府的根基價值——思考當今對我們國家、以及全世界人民來說,什么是最重要的。在這樣的時刻,我們更需要發聲。


學院,作為某種超脫、隱秘、遠離日常生活的概念,跟人類文明歷史一樣古老。想要從人群中脫離,想要抓住歷史在此刻的線索,想要追尋一切的意義,想要明白什么是幸福的生活,這份渴求一直跟隨著我們。


誰沒有在人生中的某一刻,想要效仿蒙田呢?退出公共生活,在一個美麗莊園的塔樓中居住,寫下溝通古人與當代人智慧的篇章——并在自我反省的隱居中發現自己真正的使命和意義。我們都私下有過這樣的夢想。


一如既往地,莎士比亞對這樣的夢想非常熟悉,他曾給予我們許多知名的角色,想要追求這樣的理想,但結果卻不遂人意。


比如《暴風雨》中的普洛斯彼羅,雖然身為米蘭公爵,但他只想要“置身事外,沉迷在秘術的研究中”,他感覺自己的“圖書館就是一個公爵所需要的全部”。然而這種態度,卻讓他邪惡的弟弟趁虛而入,發起了一場政變。普羅斯彼羅最終被流放到一個邊遠的小島上,在那里,他于“秘術”中掌握的黑魔法確實派上了用場。


又像是《愛的徒勞》中的那瓦國王腓迪南,他熱情高漲地帶著他的三個下屬一起成為“勇敢的征服者”,發誓永遠拋棄對愛情、食物和睡眠的渴望,從而進行永無止境的學習和研究——但最終他沒有如愿,因為他發現自己墜入了愛河。


我猜測你們在這里的校園生活,比起普羅斯彼羅,可能更靠近腓迪南。


現代美國大學基本在過去的一個世紀發展成型,它的誕生就是這份人類共同理想的機構化。今天早上我們相聚的這個小小的物理空間,在很大程度上,就是那份人類共同愿景的完美具象化。我覺得沒有其他什么能夠更接近了。


我們周圍的圓形石柱、支撐柱、三角形門廊、穹頂、古典銘文、上升的臺階,那些花崗巖、石灰巖、大理石和磚墻,告訴我們這是屬于我們的宇宙。這里被嚴密規范的學術探索防衛,堅守著由全方位懷疑主義所領導的開放性對話,并懷著對人類成就的無限尊重。哥倫比亞大學晨邊高地校區在一個世紀前建立,并一直代表著有序、傳統和不斷自我探索的理想。只要走進這個校園,你都能感覺自己的IQ上升了十點。


大學系統的智慧之處之一,是讓你們能夠來到這里。這里既包含了優秀的學者,他們用其一生探索著宇宙中我們已經知曉、或許知曉、以及必須知曉的事物,他們每天在人類積累的知識前沿耕耘,被學術自由的原則所保護,被學者氣質的氛圍所引導,并在大學去中心化的管理架構中工作。同時我們還有來自世界各地、杰出又好奇的青年人,我們傳授我們擁有的一切知識,讓你們能夠繼續生活、并學到更多——是這一切創造了現代研究型大學獨特的內核,將學術和教學令人激動的結合起來。


這些學術機構的架構和作用都是獨特的。沒有什么別的組織如此運作,又或者說,對于任何有理智的人來說,這都是不可能的。


從局外人的視角來說,這里是無法管理的。


從局內人的視角來看,我本人可以發誓,這里確實是無法管理的。


然而,它運作起來了,并且無比完美地運作著。


在20世紀、以及到現在為止的21世紀,所有重要的發現都來自學術研究型機構,現在這些機構的數量以及達到了數百所。


我的好友、哥大杰出校友沃倫·巴菲特常說,美國的體系中有一個“獨家秘方”,讓這個國家能夠最大化公民的利益,走向人類成功的巔峰。這個“獨家秘方”就始于在這里創造的知識。


在歷史上,相較于資本或政策,我們偉大的研究型大學更能驅動人類的進步,為人類生活打下根基。無論是在個人還是社交生活中,思想都是最重要的——或者說思想才是全部,而大學本身即關乎思想。


所以,它運作起來了。又或者說,只要學院之外的環境滿足某些條件,它就能一直運作下去。大學并非堅不可摧,能夠完全不被校園之外的變動影響,大學的生氣需要社會對我們所從事的事業的尊重和承諾。


追求真理需要一個寬容的社會

我們需要意識到的是:那些界定了學術以及指導各類活動的思想,正如我們在民主社會中所賴以生存的自由一樣來之不易。這些思想通常是反直覺的。擁抱自由意味著你不得不接受一定程度的讓人不適的混亂,即使是表面上的混亂有時也會使我們當中最優秀的人感到不安。


有很多智者對這一生活中的事實發表過評論。我最欣賞的大法官奧利弗·溫德爾·霍姆斯,他在闡述現代《第一修正案》中首先指出,尋求真理所需要的開放性是違背人類本能的。他直率地解釋道,由于人們自然地希望去相信我們想要相信的,因此我們想要抹殺那些和我們不一致的人的沖動,實際上是“完全符合邏輯的”。


但是,霍姆斯明白——我們現在也應該明白——追求真理需要一個寬容的社會,建設這樣的社會需要集體致力于按照社會的價值觀生活,并且要隨時對這些價值觀保持警惕并不斷調整。然而,我們經常失敗。


因此,當歷史呈現出無數社會理想與權威、政要的想法相沖突的事例也就毫不奇怪了。這些人感到當時的思潮對自己產生威脅因此選擇迷戀自己的權力和信仰,敵視這些社會理想。


第一次世界大戰結束時,西方文明迷失了方向,政治和經濟的分化使現狀越來越難以維持穩定。對俄羅斯的恐懼以及共產主義和社會主義的蔓延,伴隨著勞工中日益加劇的動蕩,使那些希望保持世界現狀的人感到恐懼和驚慌。


所有這些社會不穩定的力量轉而在矛盾升級后被鎮壓和審查,激進分子、反對派、異教徒、外國人和移民這些邊緣人口成為了替罪羊。美國社會黨領袖、總統候選人尤金·德布斯因發表一篇稱贊抵制征兵者的演講而鋃鐺入獄。


在今天,當激情被點燃,對真理的攻擊就開始了——這是詆毀你的對手和創造支持者的必要條件。這樣的攻擊通常從新聞媒體和記者開始,然后轉移到大學、學生和教授身上。既然真理是真正的敵人,因此追求真理的人必須被宣布為敵人。這種令人痛苦的詆毀出現在一個又一個國家,現在它就在我們身邊。


一些人可能會爭辯說,所有這些對媒體和大學的口頭攻擊,以及伴隨它們而來的所有其他日常謊言,都是無害的——只是一種沒有持續后果的膚淺的攻擊。然而,對我們來說,在一個真理就是一切的大學里,我們不能接受這樣的描述。它切入了我們的核心。


70年學習,70年實踐,

70年教育下一代

那么,我們該如何做呢?


幸運的是,前人的經驗能指導我們如何做,這些經驗與哥大更能引起共鳴。


百年前的1919年,那個充斥著混亂與壓抑的后一戰時代,一場公民危機暴露了想象力和無知之間的斗爭。這場激烈的斗爭引發了兩種截然不同的反應,值得我們特別關注、紀念與學習。


首先,美國最高法院受理了三起案件,并開始對“國會不得制定法律限制言論自由或新聞自由”進行法律解釋。


在民權運動與婦女運動的推動下,法院和國家用了五十年的時間實現言論自由。當我們終于做到這一切時,當這一切匯集在一起時,美國為思想自由和言論自由創造了前所未有的巨大保護傘,追求真理成為其富有活力的核心理念。隨著時間的推移,美國的大學蓬勃發展,將這種理念制度化和理想化。


也是在1919年,在這個校園里,哥大開設了一門為期一年的新課程——“當代文明”。今天,我們知道哥倫比亞學院是著名的哥大核心課程的起源,但在那時,它只不過是一個大膽的高等教育嘗試。其目的,正如課程名稱所示,是將經典文本的學習和推理應用于災難性戰后社會面臨的問題。一代又一代的哥大人證明了它在培養開放性思維和智慧方面的價值。


這些百年的知識創新都源于同樣的感性。兩者都認為,人性的最優面包括了對學習,對依靠真理而生活,對獲取和創造知識的渴望。雖然人類的消極天性會被恐懼、貪婪和對權力的欲望所激活,使我們偏離這一追求,但是只有堅定不移地在最深刻的層面上交流思想,有價值的生活才能實現,即使是那些我們不喜歡并堅信是錯誤的想法。


這個時代,你們的時代,拋出了一個難題。最重要的是,這一時刻,我們必須重申對公開調查、理性以及知識和理解力的神圣承諾。與百年前一樣,當這些追求越來越不符合更廣泛的世界潮流,表達我們堅定的追求顯得更為重要。我們絕不應為此道歉,而應享受它,支持它,并為此找到我們自己的新貢獻。


我們需要意識到的是:那些界定了學術以及指導各類活動的思想,正如我們在民主社會中所賴以生存的自由一樣來之不易。這些思想通常是反直覺的。擁抱自由意味著你不得不接受一定程度的讓人不適的混亂,即使是表面上的混亂有時也會使我們當中最優秀的人感到不安。


有很多智者對這一生活中的事實發表過評論。我最欣賞的大法官奧利弗·溫德爾·霍姆斯,他在闡述現代《第一修正案》中首先指出,尋求真理所需要的開放性是違背人類本能的。他直率地解釋道,由于人們自然地希望去相信我們想要相信的,因此我們想要抹殺那些和我們不一致的人的沖動,實際上是“完全符合邏輯的”。


但是,霍姆斯明白——我們現在也應該明白——追求真理需要一個寬容的社會,建設這樣的社會需要集體致力于按照社會的價值觀生活,并且要隨時對這些價值觀保持警惕并不斷調整。然而,我們經常失敗。


因此,當歷史呈現出無數社會理想與權威、政要的想法相沖突的事例也就毫不奇怪了。這些人感到當時的思潮對自己產生威脅因此選擇迷戀自己的權力和信仰,敵視這些社會理想。


第一次世界大戰結束時,西方文明迷失了方向,政治和經濟的分化使現狀越來越難以維持穩定。對俄羅斯的恐懼以及共產主義和社會主義的蔓延,伴隨著勞工中日益加劇的動蕩,使那些希望保持世界現狀的人感到恐懼和驚慌。


所有這些社會不穩定的力量轉而在矛盾升級后被鎮壓和審查,激進分子、反對派、異教徒、外國人和移民這些邊緣人口成為了替罪羊。美國社會黨領袖、總統候選人尤金·德布斯因發表一篇稱贊抵制征兵者的演講而鋃鐺入獄。


在今天,當激情被點燃,對真理的攻擊就開始了——這是詆毀你的對手和創造支持者的必要條件。這樣的攻擊通常從新聞媒體和記者開始,然后轉移到大學、學生和教授身上。既然真理是真正的敵人,因此追求真理的人必須被宣布為敵人。這種令人痛苦的詆毀出現在一個又一個國家,現在它就在我們身邊。


一些人可能會爭辯說,所有這些對媒體和大學的口頭攻擊,以及伴隨它們而來的所有其他日常謊言,都是無害的——只是一種沒有持續后果的膚淺的攻擊。然而,對我們來說,在一個真理就是一切的大學里,我們不能接受這樣的描述。它切入了我們的核心。


然而,與此同時,當今世界要求大學更多地融入校園之外的生活。哥大曼哈頓維爾新校區作為哥大與更廣闊現代世界接觸的最引人注目的表現,設計得更加開放。事實上,我們都知道在道德層面上必須努力解決全球問題,然而這些問題往往超出了主權國家政府和我們大多數被削弱的國際組織的能力范圍。


此外,在哥大度過的所有時間都是為了直面你的責任感和使命感,以及你對自己能夠創造改變的信念。


這種對“尋求真理”和“有意義的行為”的推與拉,是當今高等教育和未來生活所特有的。“服務社會和世界”的同時保持“獨特的精神面貌”,這個雙重目標是我們一直感受到的,它的向心力會隨著時間的推移而增加。


令人欣喜的是,當面對這一雙重進程時,我們會看到令人鼓舞和無可爭辯的現實:沒有任何一屆畢業生比你們更有能力駕馭這條充滿不確定的道路。


畢竟,當你選擇哥倫比亞大學,并開啟尋找答案的旅程時,你就成為了這所265年來一直致力于解決“當前社會問題”的大學一員。


接受世界一流教育的成果之一,就是清醒地認識到自身知識的不足。幾年前,我最尊敬的人之一、曼哈頓維爾校區的建筑師Renzo Piano年滿70歲。彼時,我詢問起他的感想,他說,盡管他想到了這一刻,并為這一刻做好了準備,但對他來說還是感到震驚。但最重要的是,那一刻讓他覺得人類的正常壽命應該是210年:70年學習,70年實踐,70年教育下一代。


這個生動的描述抓住了一個生活本質,即美好的生活總是讓我們學到越來越多的東西,多學一點,我們或許就可以做得更好。


我希望,你們有幸承載著這種生活的精神。讓我們共同期望,它能在接下來的百年中繼續定義這個國家與世界。


最后,我代表哥倫比亞大學,向所有2019屆畢業生表示最熱烈的祝賀。謝謝大家!


中文稿翻譯轉載自:哥大全球中心。


On behalf of our proud trustee, our esteem faculty, our distinguished alumni, our devoted families and our unparalleled friends gathered here and across the globe virtually, I welcome you to this very special moment in time. Today, we continue a 265- year-old tradition that binds us with a sense of pride and hope and of deep and never-ending curiosity.


We initiate those who are committed to a world of openness and debate, who have learned the power of discovering the unknown and who have accepted the great responsibility that comes with acquiring knowledge into a community steadfastly poised to shape our world for the better.  At the end of our time together today, joining a legacy of those who have come before them, we will have a new class of alumni representing 16 distinct schools along with affiliated institutions of Teacher’s College and Bernard college.


The potential for trouble is palpable. And as we explore the profound meaning of this moment, there is one special part of our community deserves unique recognition. Graduates, as much as we, your faculty, feel deep, deep affection for you, nothing can compare to the pure, unqualified adoration of your parents and families, though you will never be able to express fully the infinite gratitude I know you feel, please take this opportunity to thank them.


For my remarks today, I have three parts. I want to talk about the idea of the academy, about the enemies of the search for truth and about what we are to do.


The idea of the academy


In awarding you the degrees in your respective field, we recognize your academic accomplishment and now acknowledge your expertise in some area of study. But you are now also an expert in higher education in America, simply by virtue of your presence and deep engagement with this little world over the past several years.


This means two things. First, whether you are happy or sad about leaving us behind, whether you will return for another round of being a student, or you are intent on rejoining us, at some point, in a professorial capacity and becoming a permanent member of this community, I can  assure you that this is true, what you have just experienced with stay with you for the rest your lives and in all likelihood it will take on greater and greater meaning with the passage of time.


The second point is that I want to ask you this morning to take stock of what is now your deep and experiential knowledge about the nature and roles of universities like Columbia and with that knowledge to reflect on the state of modern society and the threats that we’re now facing to the deepest values that undergird these institutions, to reflect on what is at stake in our own country and for the people over the world. We need to raise our voices at the time, such as this.


The idea of the academy as something separate and discrete removed from daily life is as old as human civilization. The desire to step back from the fray, to grasp what is happening at this moment in history, to find a meaning to it all and to find out what is good life is forever with us. Who hasn’t at one point or another wanted to emulate Michel de Montaigne.


 If only we could take up residence in a tower on a beautiful state and write essays connecting the wisdom of the ancients with contemporary human existence and in that self-reflective pose discover our true purpose and meaning. This is a secret dream we all harbor.


 As always Shakespeare was familiar with this dream, and we used it to give us many notable characters whose pursuit of this ideal often ended in trouble.


There’s Prospero in the Tempest, while the Duke of  Milan he wishes quote to only be transported and wrapped in the secret study and he feels his library large enough. This, however, creates the opportunity for this evil brother to stage a coup, landing him on a remote island were to be sure his dark arts mastered in secret study come in handy, as may yours.


Or there’s Ferdinand, king of Love’s Labors Lost, who enlisted three subordinates to join him as quote brave conquerors who will forswear the baser impulses of love, food and sleep in order to study and learn only to be confounded in his dedication when he finds himself falling in love.


I suspect that many of you during your time here have lived closer to the experience of Ferdinand than to the experience of Prospero.


The advent of modern American university which largely happened in the last century has been the institutionalization of that human dream and this little physical space in which we gather together this morning is in many respects the near perfect fulfillment of that human vision. I know no other that can match it.


The columns, pillars, pediments, demes, classical inscriptions ascending steps, granite and limestone and marble and brick facades, which surround us convey the message that this is its own universe, a place governed by strictly observed code of academic inquiry, an insistence on open dialogue, informed by all-pervading skepticism and respect for the legacy of human achievement, created about a century ago, the Morningside campus represents the idea of an ordered, classical and even inward-looking world. To walk on to this campus is to feel one’s I.Q go up by 10 points.


Part of the genius of this system of universities involves adding you into the mix. It is the combination of brilliant scholars who dedicate their lives to exploring what we know, might know and must know about all the things in the universe, who work daily at the edge of accumulated human knowledge, sheltered by the principle of academic freedom, guided by the norms of scholarly temperament, working within the decentralized governance structure of the University. Together with the most brilliant and curious youth brought in from all over the world, to whom we teach everything we know so that they can go on with their lives and know even more.


It is all this that creates the utterly unique context of the modern research university and that unites the exhilarating intertwined ambitions of scholarship and teaching. The structure and functioning of these institutions are unique, no other organization has ever been designed in these ways, nor would it seem to anyone sensible to do。


From the outside, all look ungovernable. From the inside, and I can singularly attest to this, it is ungovernable, and it works and fabulously so.


 Over the course of the 20th, and now the 21st centuries, virtually every new discovery of significance emanated from our academic research institutions which now number in the hundreds.


My friend,  Our distinguished alumnus Warren Buffet likes to say that the American system operates with a secret sauce that has brought this nation to the pinnacle of human success in maximizing the welfare of its people, but that secret sauce begins with the knowledge created right here.


Over time, our great research universities drive human progress. They lay the foundation of life as it can be, more than capitalism, more than government policy. In life, personal and social ideals are everything or almost everything, and universities are all about ideas, so it works.


That is, it works provided certain conditions outside the academy are maintained. Universities are not invulnerable to the actions beyond their borders and they depend for their vitality on the societal respect for and commitment to what we do.


The enemies of the search for truth


Now, the enemies of the search for truth. What is important to realize is that the ideals that define the academy and guide the activity pursued herein, just like the primary freedoms we live in, do not come easily. They are in fact often counterintuitive. The embrace of freedom necessarily means you must accept a certain degree of unconformable disorder and even seeing chaos and sometimes unnerves the best of us.


There are many wise people who have commented on this fact of life. My favorite is a great justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who is setting forth the first articulation of the modern first amendment jurisprudence noted that the choice the openness required for the search for truth runs against human instinct. He bluntly explained how the impulse to persecute those we disagree with is actually quote “perfectly logical, given the natural wish to believe what we want to believe.”


But Holmes understood as we should by now as well that a tolerant society is necessary for the purposes of seeking the truth, that this is produced through an act of collective commitment to live according to its values and that this requires constant vigilance and persistent reassertion of those values, yet we often lapse.


Unsurprisingly then, history provides countless illustrations of these ideas colliding with people in government who felt threatened by the current of their time and chose to be hostile to the imagination and enamored of their own power and belief.


At the end of the first world war, western civilization had lost its way and the political and economic divisions were unraveling the status quo. Fears of Russia and the spread of communism and socialism along with growing unrest among labor give rise to fear and panic among those who wished to preserve the world as it was.


 All these forces of instability, in turn, escalated into repression, censorship and the scapegoating of marginal populations, of radicals, dissenters, nonconformance, foreigner and immigrants. The leader of the American socialist party Eugene Debs was imprisoned for delivering a speech.


Today, a century later, a new threat to our core values has emerged, around the world and in this country.  The rise of authoritarianism often in the guys of democratically elected despots has become the defining feature of modern life. The tactics, unfortunately, are age-old and time tests.

There must be an in-group, conceived around religious ethnic, racial or nationalistic lines and an outgroup. Typically, foreigners, immigrants, elites, or an opposing party.


Passions are stoked, and the assault on truth begins. The necessary predicate for discrediting your opposition and for creating supporters. It usually starts with attacks on the press and journalists. And then it moves to universities and students and professors.


Since truth is the real enemy, and whoever pursuit it must be declared the enemy. Evidence of nation after nation making this distressing turn is now all around us. We must be careful not to underestimate the negative consequences to our own values caused by this pervasive form of censorship and suppression.


Given the ever-increasing integration of peoples of the world. Through the powerful forces of economic activity, communication, and movements across borders, we depend on professors, students, and ideas flowing freely through our community of institutions. We may therefore sometimes look at these acts of intolerance abroad as matters of here foreign consequence, but they almost also have much more direct and immediate consequences for our own values.


The most recent case that vividly makes this point is the hideous torture and murder of Khashoggi. A Saudi national and unsparing critic of that regime. A violation of international law and human rights, yes, it certainly appears so. But it was potentially a violation of American law, and the interests protected by those laws for Khashoggi was a communist with the Washington post and a legal resident of the United States. With two children of his four who are U.S. citizens. As such he was protected by the first amendment for the things he said and for which he was killed. This is a crime under American laws against torture and violation of civil rights, for which there is extraterritorial jurisdiction to pursue prosecution. Though it is deplorable that no action has been taken in this country to bring this killer to justice and to vindicate U.S. interests. A precedent that should concern us all.


Of course, there is no shortage of attacks on truth and on truth seekers right here at home. The undermining of honest discourse has occurred so far not through official acts of censorship, but more indirectly, if not very subtlety, the means of suppression.


The free press is labeled the enemy of the people, the irrefutable science underlining our understanding of climate change is portrayed as a fabrication propagated for political agenda, and universities are increasingly cast as incubator of intolerance, and enemies of free expression, a sensationalist charge disproved by consistent presence on university campuses including Columbia of controversial speakers from both the left and the right. Some might argue that these verbal attacks on the press and universities as well on all. The other daily falsehoods that accompany them are harmless, only a superficial attack without lasting consequences. For us, however, in the university, where truth is everything, we cannot accept that characterization. It cuts to our core. 


What we are to do


So what are to do? Fortunately, there is an experience to guide us in our response and nowhere is that experience more resonant than at Columbia. Precisely 100 years ago in 1919 during the chaotic and repressive post-world war I era. I referenced earlier, a moment of a civil peril laid bare a fight between imagination and ignorance. The fight was fierce and provoked two distinct responses, each of them worthy of special note, celebration, and emulation today.


First, the United States Supreme Court took three cases, including that involving presidential hopeful Eugene Debbs and began interpreting the words Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. It took the court and the nation another 50 years to get it right, with the special help of the civil rights and the women’s movement, but finally, we did… finally, we did and when it all came together, the United States had created the greatest shield for freedom of the thought and of expression of any nation history.


The search for truth became its core animating idea and the American Universities flourished over time to institutionalize and idealize that way of life. Also, in 1919, at the more local level, on this campus, the new year-long required course for Columbia freshman has launched call contemporary civilization.


Though today, we know C.C. is the Genesis of the famed curriculum, then it was nothing more than a bold experiment in higher education. The objective reflected in the course name was to apply learning and reason derived from classic texts to the problems facing society in the aftermath of a cataclysmic war. The idea was to double down on the academic mission and it has made a difference as generation after generation has attested to its value in creating an open mind and intellect.


Both of these century-old intellectual innovations arose from the same sensibility. Both assumed that the best side of human nature includes the desire to learn and to live by the truth and to acquire and to create knowledge. And while our natural negative instincts activated by our fears, greed and lust for power sometimes divert us from that quest. A life worth living will only follow from a determined effort to engage with ideas at the most profound levels, even those ideas we dislike and firmly believe to be in error.


This time, your time presents the conundrum this is above all a moment when we must reassert our commitment to open inquiry, to reason and to the sanctity of knowledge and understanding. As was the case a century ago, these pursuits are increasingly out of step with the currents of the broader world, making it all the more essential that we express our devotion to that endeavor.


We must not, apologize for this but relish and champion it and find our own new contributions to this end. Yet at the same time, our world demands that we be more permeable as a university, more blended with life beyond the academy. The most striking physical manifestation of Columbia’s modern engagement with the larger world will our new Manhattanville campus, which is intentionally designed to be open and welcoming to the world.


Indeed, all of us feel the moral imperative to be working on solutions to global problems that frequently appeal to be beyond the grasp of sovereign governments and our own mostly diminished international organization.


Moreover to spend any time at Columbia is to be confronted with your sense of duty and purpose, along with your well-earned belief in your ability to make a difference.


This push and pull of truth-speaking and meaningful action is a tension endemic to higher education today and to the lives, you will live. The twin goals of serving society and the world while protecting our distinctive intellectual outlook are something we have always felt, but its centrality to our enterprise has only intensified over time. Happily, as we confront this dual agenda, there is a disheartening and indisputable reality. No group of graduates could be better equipped to navigate this precarious path than you.


After all, you chose to attend Columbia at the beginning of a journey that one finds conclusion today and you elected to become part of a university that for 265 years has been distinctively defined by its commitment to addressing the insistent problems in the present.


One of the legacies of receiving a world-class education is the sobering awareness of the inadequacy of our knowledge. Some years ago, one of the people I admire and respect most architect is Renzo Piano just turned 70 and I asked him what felt like.  He said that, as much as he had thought about and prepared for that moment, it still came as a shock. Now I can attest to that feeling of shock but more than anything he said it made him feel that our proper lifespan should be 210 years, 70 to learn, 70 to do, and 70 to teach the next generation.


This lovely description captures an elementary fact of life: a good life has the feeling that we’re learning more and more as we go. And that we could do even better if we just learned a bit more. I hope that you are fortunate enough to carry that spirit of life with you and we must hope together that it continues to define this nation and the world. In the centuries ahead, on behalf of Columbia University, I extend to all our graduates the centennial class of 2019 warmest congratulations.Thank you!


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