Posted on Jun 11, 2000

Address by Kevin Klose, president and CEO of National Public Radio

President Hull, Trustees, first of all, I'd like to thank you for this honor on behalf of National Public Radio, a service that now marks its 30th year since its formation in 1970 and now reaches about 15 million Americans a week and more than 150 stations abroad and can be heard in Sarajevo every night at 10 p.m. where they broadcast All Things Considered from a satellite.

I'm going to do this hatless if that's all right.

I'd like to say to you graduates, first of all, congratulations. The Class of 2000. What a name. Can I make a suggestion while we're all here still together? What's in a name? I have a suggestion. It's not like the class of '62 or '71 or any other number. It is a remarkable name at a remarkable time. You're at the millennium. You're at the centennial. I suggest you make it the ''

Seriously, you are in an extraordinary class not just for the way the numbers add up. Centennial. Millennium. Your program for life will be watched and noted in a very special way.

There is no other class that will enjoy this kind of scrutiny because if you go forth into this new world, this world of information, the world of changed connections with people because of the digital age, your lives will be increasingly different day by day, day in and day out and at a faster pace than the lives that Americans have lived through any time in our republic up until now. You stand at a threshold, the very opening moments of a convergence of technology and society that is revolutionary in its potentia.

In this new age similar to the beginning of the age of energy and the age of electricity, the possibility of transforming society is almost beyond people's comprehension. You will have a role in this whether you wish it or not. But what will that role be?

What is the value of a person's values in an age that will soon know the entire composition of the human genome? If society and technology obtains the knowledge to fully comprehend and play with human life at the level of genetic creation, what role can a single individual — far from the laboratory, far from a supercomputer — have in making decisions that will affect us all? What will guide you and where will you find the compass settings of what will become increasingly your engaged and busy lives faced with the piling up of personal details, personal duties and again the flood of responsibilities across your days.

Here on this very beautiful campus, we have an extraordinary, if brief, interval of years in which to look at the ideas shaping the society and sciences and carry those ideas forward. Now, that learning will go forth with you into a very brave new world.

I want to put to you today the proposition that we, all of us, have never in history in this country, this extraordinary revolutionary democracy, this republic of civil societies bound together by the rule of law. The world will be looking to you, looking at your values in the way you embody them and carry them forth in your laws to set the tone for how the world will deal with the information age. You cannot escape it. It will be with you, with the Class of 2000, right through this extraordinary century ahead.

The moral value of who you are and how you will shape this new world, it must be shaped, in my belief, by the morality of compassion, of connection and of democratic discussion, inclusion of others, a search for common ground, and an ability to listen to reason and to return over and over again to the vision of equality and justice that has guided us since the Declaration of Independence 224 years ago in it's mystical vision of the notion that we all have inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That declaration speaks to us with as much vitality and promise as it did when Thomas Jefferson, with some minor assistance from some others, wrote it.

Thomas Jefferson knew the essence of freedom. A bibliophile, he collected books with a passion that even he himself could not describe. It was his collection of books, several thousand of which still survive, that form today the basis of the Library of Congress. It became the collection around which the Library of Congress was formed after it was reestablished after the British burned Washington in the War of 1812.

Jefferson's collection, which he packed up from Monticello in Virginia barely 100 miles from Washington and which was carried by horse cart up to the Capitol, was radically different from the collection of the Library of Congress that the British had burned. And this is the key to what Jefferson knew and what is key to your lives. That earlier library had been distinctively a legislative library filled with the legal documents pertaining to the early congressional sessions and the legal matters pertaining to the making of laws in those early sessions. It was a narrow, deep but narrow, library.

With Jefferson's new core collection a new vision emerged of what a library for a democracy should be and what in essence every citizen of that democracy should be able to turn to and should aspire to as universal knowledge. For this man, an architect, a framer, a gardener, a violinist, a plant breeder, an essayist, a lawmaker and a thinker, Jefferson's passion for knowledge knew virtually no bounds. His books on art, literature, music, architecture, language, law and philosophy formed what is now the most extraordinary collection of knowledge – written, reported and made knowledge – in the history of democracies.

Jefferson, who spoke and read five languages, was comfortable with this and believed that the promise of knowledge would embody the promise of democracy. If we could find the knowledge and devote ourselves to it, we could alter our lives and alter the lives of the society.

What do we draw from this, as you face and soon enter the age of information, an age whose powers to reveal long-hidden truths of life itself may transform forever our fragile human institutions of government and nation.

What I draw from this is the majesty of the individual search for knowledge of information gained and then transformed through learning and through civil debate and discussion so that society taking abstract knowledge may act in a civilized and enlightened way.

Embodied in you is the same unquenchable thirst for knowledge and we here salute you today. And we also implore you: keep learning, keep listening, and keep thinking. Move this democracy to a new place in a new era, a place of justice, of civil dialogue and of common ground for all who live here and all who will live here in the future.

'A people,' said Jefferson, 'cannot be both ignorant and free.' In our everyday lives, your class and your role will be demanding of you a place in the information age. You will discover again and again through your lives, the bitter lesson that ignorance is divisive, ignorance is limiting, ignorance in the end is against the nature of humankind.

Ignorance breeds fear, fear brings violence. We need only look at the last decade to see the evils of ignorance etched in the human chronicle … Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Serbia.

If you stand against ignorance and you stand then for humankind, you will raise this democracy to an extraordinary new place. This democracy, which itself in its internal composition, is radically changing from all that it was before, in the next 50 years in the United States we will become increasingly diverse and divergent. Fifty years from now this society will be a culture of minorities. The question then is will it be all for all or all against all?

The binding force in that contract is contained in the power of your abilities to seek knowledge, to think of it, to bring it into your daily lives and to project it into the democracy day by day seeking common ground with your fellow man.

The world will be watching you. The emerging democracies of the former Soviet Union, the people struggling for justice and democracy and to create civil societies across war-torn Africa, the democracies of South America burdened with the historic past of inequity and an inability to find common ground, and the great peoples of Asia, especially the Peoples Republic of China, which will alter and alter and alter again in your lifetime, bringing forth a colossal new nation of the kind that we cannot even today imagine.

All these people and these nations, bound to you by the means of either mass communication or the Internet for their knowledge and their insistence to find out how a civil society works will be looking to you — the Class of 2000 — in ways that no class has been looked at in dozens and dozens of years. You stand at an historic moment.

The age of information will provide to you the means of leadership in ways we can only suggest. But it is leadership through the way you will interact through the Internet, the way you will reach to your fellow classmates after you all disperse and from there across your jobs and your lives to the rest of the world.

The Internet and the digital age will provide you all, in no way that any class has ever had before, the means to exercise your individualism, your presence and your democratic values across the world through the power of the Internet and the power that it conveys back into the mass media.

To you, we salute you. To you, we ask you to bear forward in the name of the democracy in the name of the civil society in which we have been born to carry America, the United States, your generation and generations to come behind you to new awareness, new levels of commitment to common ground of a civil society.

To you all, the Class of 2000 here at Union College, in this historic college on this extraordinary day, congratulations and thank you very much.