University of Rochester

Commencement Speakers Temper Optimism with Cautions about Tensions, Pressures of Today's World

May 19, 2002

Rochester, N.Y., May 19-Whether from the world of classics or brainy computers, the speakers at the 152nd commencement at the University of Rochester told graduates that their future will be best served by the college degree they received today.

"Liberal education is one of those marvelous endeavors that asks us to be skeptical in what we are told," said James O. Freedman, president emeritus of Dartmouth College and past president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. "It must lay open the minds and souls of its students to the wonderful opportunities of growth."

Freedman believes it is becoming harder to develop an individual's potential because "we are immersed in a dot-com digital environment." People are faced with "a bewildering barrage of noise and frenetic movement," he told about 7,000 people in attendance at the morning ceremonies on Eastman Quadrangle. "We need to slow the tempo of our lives and extend our span of attention.

"The problem is that the voices are too demanding and too self-serving . . . too few of these voices are devoted to the common good," said Freedman, who is considered one of the nation's most distinguished educational leaders and is a champion of liberal arts education. He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at today's ceremony.

Freedman and Paul M. Horn, senior vice president and director of research for IBM Corporation, addressed the graduates receiving bachelor's and master's degrees in the College (arts, sciences, and engineering) and the School of Nursing. Horn, who received a doctorate in physics from the University in 1973, was presented with the Hutchison Medal, the highest honor the University gives its alumni.

Temperatures in the low 40s chilled the crowd, but the sun broke through the clouds at times. As graduates lined up to leave the quadrangle, snow fell for a minute or two. Some cheered with amazement at the sight in May.

Horn, who is responsible for overseeing the worldwide efforts of IBM to solve technology problems and to develop research innovations, described today's computers as having "the brain power of a lizard. In 20 years, it will be a million times faster."

But as for the state of the world, Horn called this "a time of incredible uncertainty and change" when international events are often alarming. "Technology is changing everything around us-some for the better, some with fearsome destructive power," he said.

He cautioned the graduates that technology "is not some sort of savior-but what we do with it might be." He challenged them by saying: "What will you be able to do with the computer in your hand that has the power of the human brain? . . . You're not the first generation to face an uncertain future, but you will have the ability to shape that future like no other generation before you. Put it to good use."

Separate commencement ceremonies also were held today for those receiving bachelor's and master's degrees from the Eastman School of Music and master's degrees from the Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Degrees awarded today numbered 1,472.

Two teaching awards were presented to University faculty members at the ceremony on the Eastman Quadrangle. Rita D'Aoust, senior associate in the School of Nursing, received the Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. Randall Halle, assistant professor of German in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, was awarded the G. Graydon Curtis and Jane W. Curtis Award for Nontenured Faculty Teaching.

Yesterday, commencement ceremonies for doctoral candidates from all divisions of the University occurred. Ceremonies for M.D. graduates of the School of Medicine and Dentistry will take place at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 26, and those for graduates of the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday, June 16, both at the Eastman Theatre.