2008 Commencement

Honorary Degree Address
Mary W. Gray
May 25, 2008

About this time of year some dozen years ago, I stood in the director's office of a prison in Rwanda. Using a combination of my statistical education and my legal training I was sampling the population of prisoners in order to determine the prospects for establishing speedy trials that would meet an acceptable evidentiary standard at a time when the influx of prisoners was overwhelming the prisons and the prospect of the justice system's coping seemed grim. I was not there, as earlier international observers had been, to examine the conditions in the prison. In fact, the head trustee of this particular prison, in his pink prison smock, was the only person I had encountered who understood what I was doing in sampling the records. Why did he understand? Because he had a Ph.D. in economics from a prominent Ivy League university. As we talked, I wondered to what use in the ousted regime had he put his training? But whatever the accusations against him--and in the case of all the prisoners there was a single charge--genocide--on the documents I was examining--my interest lay in establishing the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" in a fair and speedy trial.

I can charge you with using your training for the good as you see it, but never forget that statistics--or any other discipline--that can be used for the good can be used for the opposite. Remember that efficient statistical registries facilitated the genocide of World War II. At a time of graduation, we think of the marvelous opportunities you have acquired to expand your horizons--to think deeply, creatively, and broadly across many fields. But it is not enough to think--one must do. Recently, attention has been given to the reversing the perceived decline in appreciation of craftsmanship, the hope being to restoring interest in work of the hands. But remember, ideas are also crafted--one hopes with great care and attention to detail. Whether in science, in politics, in art, in literature, or the law, I charge you to be worthy craftswomen.

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Mary W. Gray

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