Drury University awards degrees to 248 graduates at winter commencement  

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., Dec. 16, 2017 — Drury University awarded degrees to 248 graduates at today’s winter commencement. There were 238 undergraduate degrees conferred by both the traditional Day School and the College of Continuing Professional Studies; 16 graduate degrees were conferred by the Graduate College. Some students earned multiple degrees. 

Former Amazon vice president and PC Magazine editor Rick Ayre delivered the keynote address. Ayre graduated from Drury with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 1971. After graduation, he continued his education by pursuing his doctorate in psychiatric epidemiology. His passion for technology and writing later took him to PC Magazine. After a conversation with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos resulted in a job offer, Ayre served as vice president and executive editor with Amazon from 1996 to 2000.

Ayre spoke to the graduates about the technological moment in which we currently live, and the responsibilities they will need to uphold in the face of swift change. A believer in the power of the Internet to connect people and improve society long before most, Ayre warned that today’s Internet is tipping away from becoming an engine of discovery and toward a “massive behavior modification machine.” The more we buy, search, and like online, the more algorithms can learn about us and then seek to give us what we want – or what they think we need, he said.

“(Artificial intelligence) is getting way smarter, way faster,” Ayre said. “It’s already been many years since computers have beaten the best chess champions.” Now, Ayre said, machine learning has advanced to the point where new programs can simply observe other programs playing games or solving problems in order to learn such skills, rather than being programed directly by humans. We will never again be smarter than the computers we’ve created, he said.

“So the challenge is direct, and the challenge is to us,” he said. “The way we beat our computers is not by being smarter or faster. The way we beat our computers is by being more human.”

To do that, Ayre said, we must do what only humans can: know right from wrong; be honest; take the long view; and – most important – be kind. Being kind is not always easy when you’re young, Ayre noted, and he urged the graduates to make it a part of their life right away.

“Start now!” he said. “It turns out, it’s important. In fact, it’s probably the most important thing.”

Honorary Degree presented to Bill Virdon

Former major league baseball player and manager Bill Virdon was awarded an honorary Bachelor of Science degree. Virdon grew up in West Plains and played basketball at Drury for one year in 1949 before embarking on a 12-year baseball career as a player for the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates and a 14-year career as a manager of the Pirates, Houston Astros, New York Yankees, and Montreal Expos.

“Before my baseball career, I was lucky enough to spend a short time here at Drury,” Virdon said today. “It was my special place in Springfield. Now it’s even more special to me than before.”                                                                                                              

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