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Philosophy Grad Urges Class of 2022 to Stay Curious and Value ‘Not Knowing’

College of Humanities and Social Sciences Student Commencement Speech
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Jeremy Santiago, B.A. philosophy

Esteemed professors, family, friends, and fellow classmates — my name is Jeremy Santiago, and I am honored to be standing before you today.

Our commencement represents the perseverance, hard work, dedication, and for me at least, a couple gallons of coffee that it took to complete this degree. Today is a day that we will all remember because we earned our place to be sitting here.

My academic journey studying philosophy began at community college. I was not sure what I wanted to study, but taking a philosophy class there sparked an interest that grows stronger every day. In that class, I learned about Socrates, his way of practicing philosophy and importantly — the value he placed on not knowing.

Socrates famously asserted that he knew nothing. He didn’t say this because he thought he actually knew nothing. He said it because assuming that he knew nothing enabled him to pursue the truth open-mindedly without being deceived or distracted by what he had previously believed. And in this position of assumed ignorance, Socrates was able to peer into other people’s reasoning to help them realize that — just maybe — they may not know as much as they think they do.

I bring up Socrates today because in my time taking philosophy classes here at Cal State Fullerton, I learned how valuable it is to admit I don’t know as much as I think I do. I thought I knew what language was. Then I took a “Philosophy of Language” class and I realized how complex speech, meaning and communication really are. I thought artificial intelligence could not be conscious. Then I took a “Philosophy of Mind” class and I realized that — just maybe — AI can eventually have consciousness. All it took was for me to engage critically with an alternative philosophical perspective to question my original stance.

Importantly, this is not a bad thing. Having my ideas challenged sometimes made me realize that I was wrong. Other times it made me realize how important it is to really think things through. Like Socrates, only after I realized that maybe I do not know was I able to start successfully striving toward truth. Of course, philosophy does not guarantee certainty. Nothing interesting does, but there is tremendous value in striving to understand amidst the uncertainty.

Within uncertainty, you can challenge yourself and others to explore possibilities of truth. When you engage in conversation and try to learn something, suppose that you know nothing and find beauty in the discussion that moves you and others toward truth.

Be open to learn, be open to having your ideas challenged and be open to slamming the door on dogmatism. For the sake of learning, be courageous by rightfully claiming that you do not know. While of course getting your degree today shows that you do know something — you know a lot! — remember the value of not knowing. Stay curious, continue your quest for wisdom and never stop learning.

Congratulations, Class of 2022!