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Richard W. Lariviere Address

Thank you very much. I'm delighted and grateful to be here. Thank you, Presidents Edmonds and Moore for inviting me. I'm delighted to see your former president, Jill Tiefenthaler here. And I want to thank the trustees, the faculty, and the staff for making this the remarkable institution that it is. But most of all, congratulations, class of 2020

So, here we are back in beautiful Colorado Springs, wearing remarkably silly hats and trying to figure out what in the world just happened to us. This has been an amazing year. Our worlds were literally turned upside down. None of us, no one in this world could have imagined what was visiting us. This terrible virus has shown us a world that we could not have imagined when you came here as freshmen. Who could have envisioned entire cities shut down, empty streets, closed businesses, a world hunkered in fear of an invisible scourge. You were sent home at the end of your education to protect you, denied your commencement ceremony, this time honored ritual marking you as a member of the world's best educated. Because you are among the tiny fragment of the world's population that has completed the rigors of study at one of the world's elite colleges. Congratulations.

As long as you live, no one will ever be able to take this distinction from you. For someone of my vintage, your situation is more than a little familiar. The class of 2020 is not the first college class to be sent home without a proper commencement ceremony. Students who graduated in 1970, 50 years ago, from many of America's colleges were also sent home without a graduation ceremony. It might be interesting to look at some of the parallels that time long ago.

America was in turmoil then too. There were social and political stresses threatening the very fabric of the Republic. The continuing reverberations of the murders of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy left America on tenterhooks. The clash between the conservative element of society and the progressive seemed destined to tear the country apart. Black Americans were frustrated by systemic, economic, and political constraints. Native Americans were finding ways to give voice to their centuries of struggle. And the country was led by a president whom we now know lied to the American public consistently, a president who had promised to end war, but who made it even more terrible, a president whose leadership was so divisive, so corrupt, and dishonest that, when he left office, the nation, even his fellow party members, breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Sound familiar? If it does, you might think I've led you to a grim view of your future. 50 years later and we have just bid farewell to another dishonest president and are still embroiled in an ever longer war. Social unrest, racial, inequity, violence, et cetera, et cetera, what a terrible world. But no. Colorado College and the work you have done here, you have done here have given you the tools that will enable you to make choices that can literally save you from the grimness of this world. You have the tools to discover remedies and solutions. And progress will be the mark of your generation.

Just look at a couple of facts. That class of 1970, 50 some odd years ago, when that class of 1970 was born, penicillin was a hot new drug and polio vaccine was still half a dozen years away. Most hospitals in America spent more on clean linen than it did on medical technologies. Barely half of households in America had telephones. And barely half of the population had high school diplomas. Today, everybody has got a telephone and 90% of our population have high school diplomas. Homosexuality was a crime in 48 states. And the only person in the world who could make a phone call on his watch was a comic book character named Dick Tracy.

Most of us here today have been vaccinated against this pandemic Coronavirus. It took the scientific community just 18 months to produce this vaccine. In my youth, the great scourge was the polio epidemic. We couldn't swim in public pools. We weren't supposed to drink from water fountains. We lived in terror and fear of the paralysis and death of polio. It took 30 years to develop a vaccine against polio. Now, we're not out of the woods in this current pandemic to be sure. There are still hard days ahead, but I'm confident in the world's in your scientific capacities.

At the moment, we seem to be caught up in a world in which anger, and frustration, and indignation are the currency of our daily discourse. Thanks to the ubiquity of social media, we are subjected to screaming matches in Walmarts over who is wearing or not wearing a mask. Our televisions deliver us shouting sessions instead of conversations. The political arena seems calculated to raise our blood pressure rather than our consciousness. Powerful forces in our worlds, the Facebooks, TikToks, YouTubes, et cetera are trying to extract emotional energy in the form of rage and fury in order to distract us from investing in solutions and remedies to problems.

We aren't the very first to feel this temptation to rage instead of work. One of the clearest and most powerful discussions of wasteful outrage is found already in the second century writings of Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius was one of the great Roman emperors. His 20 years of leadership saw peace and prosperity in the empire. He was also a man of enormous insight and reflection. He left us the only surviving love letters from antiquity, homoerotic letters to his tutor, as well as some of the most important philosophical writings on stoic philosophy. His Meditations was written while he was emperor. These pieces were written for himself, for his own guidance and his own self-improvement. And I quote here a passage newly translated by Robert Waterfield on just the sort of daily annoyance that I spoke of earlier.

Marcus Aurelius said, "Whenever a person's lack of shame offends you, you should immediately ask yourself, 'So is it possible for there to be no shameless people in the world?' It isn't. And you should therefore stop demanding the impossible. He's just one of those shameless people who must necessarily exist in the world. And you should keep the same thought readily available for when you're faced with devious and untrustworthy people and people who are flawed in any way. As soon as you remind yourself that it's impossible for such people not to exist," he says, "You'll be kinder to each and every one of them. It's also helpful immediately to consider what virtue nature has granted us human beings to deal with any given offense. Gentleness, for instance, to encounter discourteous people."

Marcus Aurelius was using his education to cope with the inevitable annoyances and disappointments of life. He recognized the disjunction between the world as we might wish it and the world as it is. He recommended a path that would provide himself with a chance to find a way forward with the least waste of emotional energy. In other words, not raging against reality, but dealing with it. Controlling our emotional response to unpleasant reality does not mean that we just roll over and accept reality. It means that we harness our emotional responses to focus on solutions and remedies. This is very hard, and it is a choice. Our instinct is to give in to anger and rage. Control trolling that requires intimate knowledge of one's own self, choosing to stay resolutely focused on what we can do. To help, to improve, to give comfort, to be empathetic requires that we first understand our own feelings and reactions.

When the president lies, when the policemen fails, when the bullying, hairy driver cuts us off in traffic, we should choose how to respond rather than to give in to instinctive anger. In every instance, choosing our response requires knowing ourselves, knowing ourselves and deliberately choosing how to respond.

Now, knowing ourselves as the result of all of our accumulated knowledge. This is one of those facts repeated in many traditions over many centuries. The Greeks, Socrates, and Plato, the Indians and the [inaudible 00:10:45], Emerson, Ben Franklin, Coleridge, even Bruce Lee all time tell us that all knowledge leads to self knowledge. And you, each and every one of you in the class of 2020, have been blessed with an education at Colorado College that has endowed you with knowledge to be sure, but most importantly, with the skills to acquire more knowledge. You have been taught how to learn. And, during your time here, you learned more about yourselves than any other topic. And thank heaven because, boy, do we need you.

It's now your turn. We have handed you a right mess of a world, but also, a world filled with wonder, and beauty, and challenge. Sure. Climate crisis, pandemic, tenacious racism, and tribalism, but also opportunity and a desire to make it better. And that is what the world will find in you. Your generation is to make gigantic strides toward solving the great challenges of this world. How can I be so confident to say this? Because I have not only confidence in the talents you bring to the challenges, but in the training and education you have worked so hard to acquire.

Progress will be the hallmark of your future. You are going to see the same kind of astonishing change that my generation has seen. You are the most encouraging thing about our collective future. You, you are the reason for optimism, you who have already in your brief time after graduation shown such resilience and such resolve to move forward into a world that holds for you a lot of uncertainty. You have been given tools that you have learned to use in the blocks of study at Colorado College. And you now get to use those tools daily in your pursuit of career and meaning in your lives. What wonder lies in front of you.

Do not be distracted from your roles in the world. Do not waste your energies on anger and indignation. Stay focused on what you can do to make this bruised world whole, and verdant, and fair. We're counting on you. You have been given gifts and now must use those gifts to make our world better. The challenges are as great as they have ever been. No one has ever had to deal with a world that has nine billion people in it, but you will, and you will do so with empathy, and calm, and focused reason. That is what Colorado College has given you, and it is what will be necessary for you to provide the rest of us with solutions and remedies.

Congratulations again, class of 2020. You are our future, and our future is bright because of you. Thank you.

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