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Swarthmore College Graduates 380 at 133rd Commencement

SWARTHMORE, Pa. (May 29, 2005) — In remarks at the College's 133rd commencement today, Swarthmore President Alfred H. Bloom urged graduating seniors to help lift society above the "moralistic absolutism" that is dividing the world and straining democratic discourse.

"Today moralistic absolutism powers radical Islamic fundamentalism and North Korea's paranoid self-reliance, and it is on the rise again in this nation in the troubling form of a cluster of unexamined moralistic concepts including 'the sanctity of life,' 'liberty above all,' 'axis of evil,' 'intelligent design,' and 'family values,' which are exerting increasing influence on American social attitudes, scientific and legal practice, and domestic and foreign policy," Bloom said.

"I say 'troubling' because, whenever populations or groups embrace such absolutes as the mobilizing principles of their identity and world view, complex ethical reasoning is suppressed; perspectives and facts that complicate accepted understanding are ignored; individuals who do not share the favored view are cast as 'other'-often as immoral, unpatriotic, threatening-and attitudes and actions which would otherwise be constrained by respect for others and more far-reaching perspectives are allowed free, and often, destructive rein."

The College awarded degrees to 380 undergraduates at the ceremony, held this morning under sunny skies at the Scott Outdoor Amphitheater. In addition, honorary degrees were awarded to critically acclaimed author Jonathan Franzen, a member of the Class of 1981; noted poet and educator Daniel Hoffman, a former member of Swarthmore's English faculty; and Anne Schuchat, a member of the Class of 1980 and a physician at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bloom, who has made ethical responsibility a hallmark of his 14-year presidency, reminded graduates of several international conflicts fueled in part by moralistic absolutes. Among them: the Israeli-Palestinian divide, the Iraq war, and the conflict between the West and Islamic fundamentalists. In this country, Bloom said, absolutism similarly hardens positions on such issues as abortion, gay rights, affirmative action, and teaching evolution in schools.

Because of their experience at Swarthmore-which both in its classroom instruction and community values stresses the bridging of difference-Bloom called on the graduates to bring "a more complex and comprehensive" ethical framework to the issues they take on after graduation from Swarthmore and to foster that approach in others.

"You have developed the habit of drawing on your own intellectual and personal strengths to connect with others across differences of experience, circumstance, and belief in ways that deliver validation, confidence, respect, and partnership," Bloom told the class. "Indeed, that mode of human connection, informed by the values and practice of this community, has become an essential part of each of you and of what you most value in yourselves.

"You are exceptionally prepared as well to place that mode of human connection into the service of releasing in others a willingness to explore, accept, and develop the richness and complexity of their own moral logic and intuitions, just as the validation, confidence, respect, partnership, and intellectual challenge you have experienced here have motivated you to explore, accept and develop your own ethical intelligence.

"I hope that calling attention at this consequential moment to these dimensions of the Swarthmore legacy will encourage each of you, at every opportunity you have-in what you say, write and do, in how you advocate for the good-to take leadership in unlocking the grip of moralistic absolutism, in fostering in its place the open, analytic, collaborative orientation essential to democracy and to meeting the human and environmental challenges we face as a society and world."

Of the 380 graduates, 367 received the Bachelor of Arts degree and 28 the Bachelor of Science in engineering degree. Fifteen had double degrees. Highest honors were awarded to 12, with 64 collecting high honors and 49 receiving honors.

Of the 380 graduates, 367 received the bachelor of arts degree and 28 the bachelor of science in engineering degree. Fifteen had double degrees. Highest honors were awarded to 12, with 64 collecting high honors and 49 receiving honors.

The senior class speaker, as voted by his classmates, was Raghu Karnad of Bangalore, India. Karnad, a political science major with a minor in biology, graduated with High Honors.