哥大校长2019毕业演讲:当消极天性被激活,唯有深层思想能实现生活价值
发布人:发展规划处  发布时间:2019-07-02   浏览次数:41
发布:2019-06-25 09:44分享:

尊敬的各位教员、校友、家人、朋友,以及全球正关注于此的客人们,我谨代表校董事会,欢迎大家相聚在这一特殊的时刻。今天,我们延续着一个拥有265年历史的传统,在骄傲、希望、深邃且永无止境的好奇心中彼此联结。


我们将视野开豁、乐于思辨的人,将探索未知力量的人,将因掌握智慧而承担重任的人,吸纳进哥大这个志在创造更美好世界的社群中。今天之后,将有来自18个学院的学子跟随前人的步伐,他们明日的潜能无限可期。


在这一重要时刻,有一群特别的人需要专门被提及。毕业生们,虽然作为你们的老师,我们对你们怀着深深的喜爱,但没有什么能够与你们的父母和家人给予你们的纯粹、毫无保留的爱意匹及。虽然你们永远都无法完全表达内心无限的感激,我知道你们的感受,但也请用这个机会来感谢他们。


今天我的演讲将分为三个部分,我想要谈一谈学院的意义,探索真理道路上的敌人,以及我们应该如何应对。


  

大学本身即关乎思想



在为你们颁授各自领域的学位证书后,我们认可了你们的学术成就,并认同你们在某一领域内的专业学识。但现在你们同时也成为了美国高等教育中的学者,因为你们在过去几年中身处并积极参与了这个小小的世界。


这意味着两件事。


首先,无论你因离开哥大感到高兴或难过,无论你是否计划再次成为一名学生,又或者你打算在未来的某个时刻带着教授的头衔回来、成为这个社群中永久的一员,我都能做如下保证:你们刚刚经历过的一切,将会跟随你们的一生,并极有可能随着时间的流逝变得越来越重要。


第二件事,是我希望你们能在这个早晨思考你们对大学的角色和本质的理解,我想请你们运用你们的知识,反思当今社会现状,我们所面对的威胁,以及什么是支撑这些学府的根基价值——思考当今对我们国家、以及全世界人民来说,什么是最重要的。在这样的时刻,我们更需要发声。


学院,作为某种超脱、隐秘、远离日常生活的概念,跟人类文明历史一样古老。想要从人群中脱离,想要抓住历史在此刻的线索,想要追寻一切的意义,想要明白什么是幸福的生活,这份渴求一直跟随着我们。


谁没有在人生中的某一刻,想要效仿蒙田呢?退出公共生活,在一个美丽庄园的塔楼中居住,写下沟通古人与当代人智慧的篇章——并在自我反省的隐居中发现自己真正的使命和意义。我们都私下有过这样的梦想。


一如既往地,莎士比亚对这样的梦想非常熟悉,他曾给予我们许多知名的角色,想要追求这样的理想,但结果却不遂人意。


比如《暴风雨》中的普洛斯彼罗,虽然身为米兰公爵,但他只想要“置身事外,沉迷在秘术的研究中”,他感觉自己的“图书馆就是一个公爵所需要的全部”。然而这种态度,却让他邪恶的弟弟趁虚而入,发起了一场政变。普罗斯彼罗最终被流放到一个边远的小岛上,在那里,他于“秘术”中掌握的黑魔法确实派上了用场。


又像是《爱的徒劳》中的那瓦国王腓迪南,他热情高涨地带着他的三个下属一起成为“勇敢的征服者”,发誓永远抛弃对爱情、食物和睡眠的渴望,从而进行永无止境的学习和研究——但最终他没有如愿,因为他发现自己坠入了爱河。


我猜测你们在这里的校园生活,比起普罗斯彼罗,可能更靠近腓迪南。


现代美国大学基本在过去的一个世纪发展成型,它的诞生就是这份人类共同理想的机构化。今天早上我们相聚的这个小小的物理空间,在很大程度上,就是那份人类共同愿景的完美具象化。我觉得没有其他什么能够更接近了。


我们周围的圆形石柱、支撑柱、三角形门廊、穹顶、古典铭文、上升的台阶,那些花岗岩、石灰岩、大理石和砖墙,告诉我们这是属于我们的宇宙。这里被严密规范的学术探索防卫,坚守着由全方位怀疑主义所领导的开放性对话,并怀着对人类成就的无限尊重。哥伦比亚大学晨边高地校区在一个世纪前建立,并一直代表着有序、传统和不断自我探索的理想。只要走进这个校园,你都能感觉自己的IQ上升了十点。


大学系统的智慧之处之一,是让你们能够来到这里。这里既包含了优秀的学者,他们用其一生探索着宇宙中我们已经知晓、或许知晓、以及必须知晓的事物,他们每天在人类积累的知识前沿耕耘,被学术自由的原则所保护,被学者气质的氛围所引导,并在大学去中心化的管理架构中工作。同时我们还有来自世界各地、杰出又好奇的青年人,我们传授我们拥有的一切知识,让你们能够继续生活、并学到更多——是这一切创造了现代研究型大学独特的内核,将学术和教学令人激动的结合起来。


这些学术机构的架构和作用都是独特的。没有什么别的组织如此运作,又或者说,对于任何有理智的人来说,这都是不可能的。


从局外人的视角来说,这里是无法管理的。


从局内人的视角来看,我本人可以发誓,这里确实是无法管理的。


然而,它运作起来了,并且无比完美地运作着。


在20世纪、以及到现在为止的21世纪,所有重要的发现都来自学术研究型机构,现在这些机构的数量以及达到了数百所。


我的好友、哥大杰出校友沃伦·巴菲特常说,美国的体系中有一个“独家秘方”,让这个国家能够最大化公民的利益,走向人类成功的巅峰。这个“独家秘方”就始于在这里创造的知识。


在历史上,相较于资本或政策,我们伟大的研究型大学更能驱动人类的进步,为人类生活打下根基。无论是在个人还是社交生活中,思想都是最重要的——或者说思想才是全部,而大学本身即关乎思想。


所以,它运作起来了。又或者说,只要学院之外的环境满足某些条件,它就能一直运作下去。大学并非坚不可摧,能够完全不被校园之外的变动影响,大学的生气需要社会对我们所从事的事业的尊重和承诺。


追求真理需要一个宽容的社会

  

我们需要意识到的是:那些界定了学术以及指导各类活动的思想,正如我们在民主社会中所赖以生存的自由一样来之不易。这些思想通常是反直觉的。拥抱自由意味着你不得不接受一定程度的让人不适的混乱,即使是表面上的混乱有时也会使我们当中最优秀的人感到不安。


有很多智者对这一生活中的事实发表过评论。我最欣赏的大法官奥利弗·温德尔·霍姆斯,他在阐述现代《第一修正案》中首先指出,寻求真理所需要的开放性是违背人类本能的。他直率地解释道,由于人们自然地希望去相信我们想要相信的,因此我们想要抹杀那些和我们不一致的人的冲动,实际上是“完全符合逻辑的”。


但是,霍姆斯明白——我们现在也应该明白——追求真理需要一个宽容的社会,建设这样的社会需要集体致力于按照社会的价值观生活,并且要随时对这些价值观保持警惕并不断调整。然而,我们经常失败。


因此,当历史呈现出无数社会理想与权威、政要的想法相冲突的事例也就毫不奇怪了。这些人感到当时的思潮对自己产生威胁因此选择迷恋自己的权力和信仰,敌视这些社会理想。


第一次世界大战结束时,西方文明迷失了方向,政治和经济的分化使现状越来越难以维持稳定。对俄罗斯的恐惧以及共产主义和社会主义的蔓延,伴随着劳工中日益加剧的动荡,使那些希望保持世界现状的人感到恐惧和惊慌。


所有这些社会不稳定的力量转而在矛盾升级后被镇压和审查,激进分子、反对派、异教徒、外国人和移民这些边缘人口成为了替罪羊。美国社会党领袖、总统候选人尤金·德布斯因发表一篇称赞抵制征兵者的演讲而锒铛入狱。


在今天,当激情被点燃,对真理的攻击就开始了——这是诋毁你的对手和创造支持者的必要条件。这样的攻击通常从新闻媒体和记者开始,然后转移到大学、学生和教授身上。既然真理是真正的敌人,因此追求真理的人必须被宣布为敌人。这种令人痛苦的诋毁出现在一个又一个国家,现在它就在我们身边。


一些人可能会争辩说,所有这些对媒体和大学的口头攻击,以及伴随它们而来的所有其他日常谎言,都是无害的——只是一种没有持续后果的肤浅的攻击。然而,对我们来说,在一个真理就是一切的大学里,我们不能接受这样的描述。它切入了我们的核心。



70年学习,70年实践,

70年教育下一代


那么,我们该如何做呢?


幸运的是,前人的经验能指导我们如何做,这些经验与哥大更能引起共鸣。


百年前的1919年,那个充斥着混乱与压抑的后一战时代,一场公民危机暴露了想象力和无知之间的斗争。这场激烈的斗争引发了两种截然不同的反应,值得我们特别关注、纪念与学习。


首先,美国最高法院受理了三起案件,并开始对“国会不得制定法律限制言论自由或新闻自由”进行法律解释。


在民权运动与妇女运动的推动下,法院和国家用了五十年的时间实现言论自由。当我们终于做到这一切时,当这一切汇集在一起时,美国为思想自由和言论自由创造了前所未有的巨大保护伞,追求真理成为其富有活力的核心理念。随着时间的推移,美国的大学蓬勃发展,将这种理念制度化和理想化。


也是在1919年,在这个校园里,哥大开设了一门为期一年的新课程——“当代文明”。今天,我们知道哥伦比亚学院是著名的哥大核心课程的起源,但在那时,它只不过是一个大胆的高等教育尝试。其目的,正如课程名称所示,是将经典文本的学习和推理应用于灾难性战后社会面临的问题。一代又一代的哥大人证明了它在培养开放性思维和智慧方面的价值。


这些百年的知识创新都源于同样的感性。两者都认为,人性的最优面包括了对学习,对依靠真理而生活,对获取和创造知识的渴望。虽然人类的消极天性会被恐惧、贪婪和对权力的欲望所激活,使我们偏离这一追求,但是只有坚定不移地在最深刻的层面上交流思想,有价值的生活才能实现,即使是那些我们不喜欢并坚信是错误的想法。


这个时代,你们的时代,抛出了一个难题。最重要的是,这一时刻,我们必须重申对公开调查、理性以及知识和理解力的神圣承诺。与百年前一样,当这些追求越来越不符合更广泛的世界潮流,表达我们坚定的追求显得更为重要。我们绝不应为此道歉,而应享受它,支持它,并为此找到我们自己的新贡献。


我们需要意识到的是:那些界定了学术以及指导各类活动的思想,正如我们在民主社会中所赖以生存的自由一样来之不易。这些思想通常是反直觉的。拥抱自由意味着你不得不接受一定程度的让人不适的混乱,即使是表面上的混乱有时也会使我们当中最优秀的人感到不安。


有很多智者对这一生活中的事实发表过评论。我最欣赏的大法官奥利弗·温德尔·霍姆斯,他在阐述现代《第一修正案》中首先指出,寻求真理所需要的开放性是违背人类本能的。他直率地解释道,由于人们自然地希望去相信我们想要相信的,因此我们想要抹杀那些和我们不一致的人的冲动,实际上是“完全符合逻辑的”。


但是,霍姆斯明白——我们现在也应该明白——追求真理需要一个宽容的社会,建设这样的社会需要集体致力于按照社会的价值观生活,并且要随时对这些价值观保持警惕并不断调整。然而,我们经常失败。


因此,当历史呈现出无数社会理想与权威、政要的想法相冲突的事例也就毫不奇怪了。这些人感到当时的思潮对自己产生威胁因此选择迷恋自己的权力和信仰,敌视这些社会理想。


第一次世界大战结束时,西方文明迷失了方向,政治和经济的分化使现状越来越难以维持稳定。对俄罗斯的恐惧以及共产主义和社会主义的蔓延,伴随着劳工中日益加剧的动荡,使那些希望保持世界现状的人感到恐惧和惊慌。


所有这些社会不稳定的力量转而在矛盾升级后被镇压和审查,激进分子、反对派、异教徒、外国人和移民这些边缘人口成为了替罪羊。美国社会党领袖、总统候选人尤金·德布斯因发表一篇称赞抵制征兵者的演讲而锒铛入狱。


在今天,当激情被点燃,对真理的攻击就开始了——这是诋毁你的对手和创造支持者的必要条件。这样的攻击通常从新闻媒体和记者开始,然后转移到大学、学生和教授身上。既然真理是真正的敌人,因此追求真理的人必须被宣布为敌人。这种令人痛苦的诋毁出现在一个又一个国家,现在它就在我们身边。


一些人可能会争辩说,所有这些对媒体和大学的口头攻击,以及伴随它们而来的所有其他日常谎言,都是无害的——只是一种没有持续后果的肤浅的攻击。然而,对我们来说,在一个真理就是一切的大学里,我们不能接受这样的描述。它切入了我们的核心。


然而,与此同时,当今世界要求大学更多地融入校园之外的生活。哥大曼哈顿维尔新校区作为哥大与更广阔现代世界接触的最引人注目的表现,设计得更加开放。事实上,我们都知道在道德层面上必须努力解决全球问题,然而这些问题往往超出了主权国家政府和我们大多数被削弱的国际组织的能力范围。


此外,在哥大度过的所有时间都是为了直面你的责任感和使命感,以及你对自己能够创造改变的信念。


这种对“寻求真理”和“有意义的行为”的推与拉,是当今高等教育和未来生活所特有的。“服务社会和世界”的同时保持“独特的精神面貌”,这个双重目标是我们一直感受到的,它的向心力会随着时间的推移而增加。


令人欣喜的是,当面对这一双重进程时,我们会看到令人鼓舞和无可争辩的现实:没有任何一届毕业生比你们更有能力驾驭这条充满不确定的道路。


毕竟,当你选择哥伦比亚大学,并开启寻找答案的旅程时,你就成为了这所265年来一直致力于解决“当前社会问题”的大学一员。


接受世界一流教育的成果之一,就是清醒地认识到自身知识的不足。几年前,我最尊敬的人之一、曼哈顿维尔校区的建筑师Renzo Piano年满70岁。彼时,我询问起他的感想,他说,尽管他想到了这一刻,并为这一刻做好了准备,但对他来说还是感到震惊。但最重要的是,那一刻让他觉得人类的正常寿命应该是210年:70年学习,70年实践,70年教育下一代。


这个生动的描述抓住了一个生活本质,即美好的生活总是让我们学到越来越多的东西,多学一点,我们或许就可以做得更好。


我希望,你们有幸承载着这种生活的精神。让我们共同期望,它能在接下来的百年中继续定义这个国家与世界。


最后,我代表哥伦比亚大学,向所有2019届毕业生表示最热烈的祝贺。谢谢大家!


中文稿翻译转载自: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!