Friday evening I shook the hands of 160 graduating seniors who had majored in PEIS--Political Economy of Industrial Societies--at Berkeley. We stood at the world's foremost public university, 2300 years after the founding of the first institution that could be called a public university, to celebrate the intellectual achievements of a portion of the graduating class of 2002.
Now we Berkeley faculty are very fortunate, for the conditions under which we work are much much more favorable for education than were those back when the Great Library of Alexandria was founded. We have over 50 percent literacy worldwide, and our books cost us $20 each. They had 4 percent literacy, and their books cost them the equivalent of $5000 each.
This is fortunate, for the citizens of California ask much more from Berkeley than the Lagid kings of Hellenistic Egypt asked of their Great Library. They sought an ornament for their court, a source of amusing diversion, and an instrument of Greek acculturation. The citizens of California ask Berkeley to be a creator of scientific knowledge, a source of cultural excellence, an engine of economic progress, and a fount of political wisdom.
I felt Friday night that I was laying a burden on those students who had majored in PEIS. All graduating California residents knew that the citizens of California had invested $100,000 in each of their Berkeley educations in the belief that the education will help them accomplish great things. And we need great things from all of our graduates. Never has the pace of scientific and technical advance beeen greater, never has the world been more closely linked, never has the world economy been richer, never has the world seen faster economic growth, never has the world been more democratic. But never has the world been more unequal. Never before have we known how to make such destructive weapons. Never have waves of hatred been able to propagate themselves so rapidly around the globe.
The intellectual achievements of each PEIS graduating student here at Berkeley have been great--or they would not be graduating. So our expectations of great things are, I think, reasonable. I think they will be met. Nevertheless, it seems a heavy burden to lay on people who are, for the most part, just out of their teens.