Renowned Philosophy Professor Selected as Commencement Speaker

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Author: Rachel Silver

President Jonathon Veitch and the Board of Trustees announced last week that Anthony Appiah has been selected as the speaker the 2012 Commencement Ceremony. A distinguished professor of philosophy at the Princeton Center for Human Values, Appiah’s work explores many subjects, including African-American studies, comparative literature, politics and fiction. While the subject of his upcoming address is still to be announced, much of Appiah’s work is centered on cosmopolitanism, an ideology that all humans are global citizens united by a common morality.

“I will be thinking about the particular traditions and ideals of the college, which is guided by the cosmopolitan spirit quite explicitly,” Appiah said.

Appiah’s cosmopolitanism is a new form of ethics which incorporate the realities of a globalized world. Occidental’s mission statement, which encourages students to engage in “an increasingly complex, interdependent and pluralistic world,” fits well with this theme.

“[The Occidental Mission] statement is very much central to my own thinking and work,” Appiah said.

Appiah’s ideas also draw upon a variety of fields, making him very relevant to the liberal arts.

“I wanted someone who can speak to the value of the liberal arts tradition on the occasion of our 125 anniversary,” President Veitch said. “Professor Appiah does that with a grace and eloquence that has justifiably earned him a reputation as one of the leading philosophers in the United States and beyond.”

Samantha Power, last year’s Commencement speaker and a current Special Assistant to President Obama, offered her praise of Appiah’s work “Cosmopolitanism” on his website: “A brilliant and humane philosophy for our confused age. By weaving storytelling and high principle, Appiah persuades us that, in the delicate balancing of universal values and individual needs, we can do far, far better.”

Appiah, who has given Commencement speeches at liberal arts colleges around the country, including Colby, Swarthmore and Dickinson, promises that he does not recycle phrases or themes.

Following in the college’s tradition, Appiah will receive an honorary degree on Commencement day. In honor of the 125 anniversary, the four other recipients of honorary degrees at the 2012 Commencement ceremony will be Occidental alumni:  Ruth Coleman ’82, California State Parks director; Diane Evans ’76, a director for NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Patt Morrison ’74, Los Angeles journalist and Steve Cooper ’68, CEO of Warner Brothers Music Group. All were chosen by the Board of Trustees for their exemplary work in their respective fields.

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