President Hansen congratulates commencement speaker Stephen Carter after he receives an honorary doctor of laws degree.

Bates graduates 443 in ceremony featuring religious-freedom expert

Fending off a threatening rain nearly until the end of its 137th annual Commencement, Bates College sent 443 graduates into the world Monday in a ceremony that also honored a leading expert on religion and law, a pioneering cardiologist, the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund and the college’s recently retired sixth president.

One of four honorary degree recipients at the event, Yale Professor of Law Stephen L. Carter offered a commencement address welcoming graduates to what he called the “reasoning class.”

“We live in a world in which all too few people are trained to use their minds, to really apply the power of human intelligence to try to solve the knotty problems of policy, of politics, of philosophy, of morality,” Carter said. “Human reason is one of God’s great gifts to the human race, and it does us no credit when we under-use it.”

Carter cautioned the audience of some 2,500 not to think of the reasoning class as “superior to some other class …. The reasoning class is open without regard to ideology and it’s largely closed to those whose most important task in life is fitting in and hiding in the crowd.”

As members of the reasoning class, he asked graduates to move beyond a world governed by media sound bites, knee-jerk reactions, chants that substitute for argument and the  “demonizing (of) people because their ideals happen to be different from those you cherish.”

Instead, he said, graduates can make the world a better place by “applying human reason to problems that divide us and threaten us” and by “drawing into reasonable conversation thoughtful people with whom you disagree.”

The outdoor ceremony on the historic quad in front of Coram Library drew about 2,500 people. The 443 graduates, 211 male and 232 female, earned 340 bachelor of arts degrees and 103 bachelor of sciences degrees.
Joining Carter as honorary degree recipients were: UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy;  renowned cardiologist Dr. Eugene Braunwald of Harvard Medical School; and former Bates President Donald W. Harward, who served from 1989 to 2002.

(Follow this link to the Sun Journal’s coverage of Commencement.)