Midwestern values will help Ripon College’s graduating seniors as they move forward and make decisions in today’s uncertain world, said commencement keynote speaker Nate Silver, a writer and statistician with The New York Times. He received an honorary doctor of science degree from Ripon.
“It’s a tremendous honor to receive this degree and to be here with all of you today,” Silver said. “I feel I’m among friends here in Ripon. I grew up in another Midwestern college town, East Lansing, Mich. The people here, the landscapes, the unpredictable spring weather, the hatred of the Minnesota Vikings, all these things are comforting and familiar.”
He said his parents also met in a history class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1965.
“May the relationships you’ve built here in Ripon last a lifetime. And may what you’ve learned here inside and outside the classroom become the foundation for a set of values that you’ll always carry with you.
“These are Midwestern values and as such they are a mix of liberal values and conservative values. They are values like curiosity, openness toward new experiences, tolerance for dissenting viewpoints, perseverance, hard work and responsibility,” he said. “The theme of today’s Commencement is Data and Decisions. You’re going to be entering a world with vastly more data than ever before.”
He said IBM found that 90 percent of the world’s data was created in the past two years, but not much has yet been transformed into useful knowledge that would allow us to make better decisions as individuals or as a society.
Silver said college graduates face a future more uncertain than ever, with many high-stakes decisions and mistakes along the way. He said data has brought success in some individual industries, including baseball, but the economic crisis, wars, terrorist attacks and natural disasters in the world in the past few years all involve some failure of analysis that magnify the consequences.
But success will come – not through leaps of faith in technology – but by being accountable for failures, learning from mistakes and changing your behavior the next time around, Silver said.
“Learning is a lifelong process. All of you are entering a world awash in data and statistics. The decisions you make with that data will determine whether America remains a free and prosperous society,” said Silver.
“A healthy Republican party. A Republican party that is a really conservative party and not a post-modern party is in the nation’s best interest,” he added. “Likewise, it will be in your best interest to adopt though some liberal values and some conservative ones. Which conservative principles are so useful in a data rich world… hardwork and responsibility… another important conservative value is humility.”
Silver said the liberal values of curiosity and open-mindedness are also important.
“If you abide by the values you learned here in Ripon and not by the values predominant in Washington, D.C., I think you’ll do very well for yourselves and the rest of us. We Midwesterners believe in reality as much as we believe in the soil, trees, lakes, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. Through honesty, hard work, the love of knowledge and the love of truth, we hope to make the world a better place.”
Andrew Britton, who teaches social studies at Oshkosh West High School, was presented with the 2013 Distinguished Educator Award. He said K-12 teachers today care deeply about kids and put their heart and soul into what they do, which is inspiring students to reach their full potentials.
But they have been battered by recent events and are under enormous pressure.
“For future educators, I have three words of advice: hang in there,” Britton said. “There is no greater calling or profession than to be a teacher. This ceremony does not mark the end of your learning. It is only the beginning.”
Steven J. Brams, professor of politics at New York University, received an honorary doctor of science degree. He noted that it was an interesting reversal of roles to have his former student, Ripon College President Zach P. Messitte, conferring a degree upon him.
Senior Class Gift fund-raising officers reported on their achievement “to leave our mark at Ripon College.” Eighty-four percent of the class contributed $2,287.42, which will be split between the Senior Scholarship and the College’s Annual Fund.
Messitte thanked the class for “its lasting impact on Ripon College.”
“In 1,000 different ways, you understand intrinsically why this College means so much to so many people, “ he said. “I wish you all good things.”