In his May 19 baccalaureate address to graduates, President William D. Adams discussed the significance of social media in the lives of the Class of 2012—and the importance of old-fashioned “social knowledge,” which he said seniors learned at Colby.
“Yours is the first generation whose entire adolescence and early adulthood have been lived within and around the dazzling constructs of social media,” he said.
With tools ranging from Colby’s Digest of Civil Discourse to Twitter, these students have come of age in a time characterized by decreased interpersonal interaction. But the Colby experience requires moving beyond the keyboard. “Whether you know it or not, you have developed here at Colby a form of intellectual capital that will give you certain advantages in the future,” he said. “That capital is what I’ll call social knowledge, the art of working with others to solve problems or create things or simply to share.”
Disconnected from the Internet, in the presence of peers and teachers, is where some of the most critical learning takes place. “If your undergraduate experience was anything like mine, you’ve found that some of your most enduring memories of college will include those late night conversations with friends about the really big things—politics, God, truth, justice, love, racism, the future of the planet—and those more formal moments, in and around classrooms, where your personal convictions were rocked, affirmed, or forever altered.”
At the same time, students were developing key abilities that they will take with them and continue to draw upon in their lives and careers. “Each and every one of you has been required to think hard and clearly about complex matters of real substance; to write and speak clearly and persuasively about things that matter; to exercise your imaginations in all kinds of interesting and difficult ways,” he said.
Adams cited a Wall Street Journal article that challenged the notion that job training beats the kind of learning that happens at places like Colby. He shared with seniors what he said he’s been hearing from business people during his 18 years as a college president. “What matters most in most professional environments is not technical knowledge, which can be gotten in other ways, but the ability to think, the ability to communicate, and the ability to deploy one’s creative and imaginative powers in a variety of contexts.”
The baccalaureate address is the final time the President speaks to seniors as a class; the first and only other time is at convocation, at the start of students’ first year. Text of the full speech is available here.