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Jimmy Wales Honorary Degree
Presented by R. Lance Factor, George Appleton Distiguished Service Professor of Philosophy


Mr. President:  It is my privilege to present Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Wikipedia Foundation, for the degree of Doctor of Laws.

No serious commentator on our time has failed to mention the vast capabilities of the internet. Daily we imbibe the heady excitement and the apprehension of the 'Information Age.'  We sense the speed of lightening in the send command, and shudder with trepidation when imagining the faceless recipients of our credit card numbers. More uplifting is our expanding sense of discovery where, like New World explorers, we search, we find, and we learn. We sense a new continent of knowledge within our grasp; and knowledge, as we should remember, is the solvent of deception, hypocrisy, and spin. Knowledge is the first defense of liberty, and the indispensable weapon of a free people. 

No one understands this better than Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopedia. Using his own financial resources, earned as a futures and options broker in Chicago, Mr. Wales brought a brilliant idea to life. His education in his mother's one room school house, his undergraduate study at Auburn University and his graduate study in finance at the University of Alabama and Indiana University, prepared him for an unexpected adventure in the not-for-profit world of free information. Wikipedia has more than 3,800,000 articles in many languages, including more than 1,000,000 in the English language version. In one month alone there were more than 25 million unique hits, making Wikipedia the 18th most popular site on the Internet. It is described as an effort to create and distribute a multilingual free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language.  A recent study of its content accuracy indicates that its volunteer community of contributors and editors maintain standards comparable to printed encyclopedias. Its use, popularity, and ongoing success are unquestioned.

President Taylor, behold the Class of 2006. I predict that some in this class will, in due course, be entries in Wikipedia, many will be contributors or editors, and nearly all have or will be users. Together the class shouts 'Long Live the Public Domain!'  Through The Wikipedia Foundation, Jimmy Wales is attempting to create a free encyclopedia in every language with access points in every developing country. There are now 130 active editions. If achieved, this noble goal could do for the world what Diderot's Encyclopedia did for Modern Europe and what Carnegie Libraries did for America. It has been said that the copy machine and the fax brought down the Soviet Union. Perhaps Wikipedia will pierce the Great Firewall of China or remove the fog of ignorance that protects tyrannies around the world. Mr. Wales and his community of volunteers are showing us what a free people in a free society can do for the world. 

Mr. Wales, given your natural curiosity and quick native intelligence, you might have wondered why you were called to the sacred steps of Old Main. You are not a native son, though we will soon rejoice in addressing you as friend and alumnus. You are not a celebrity, though what you are doing deserves widespread support and recognition. This is not the Emerald City, where degrees are given for virtues everyone should possess. This isn't even Kansas!  No, you are here because in your efforts to extend the liberating power of knowledge and to build a community of inquirers, you share a vision with our founders and our alumni, those who gave us our college and those who sustain it. The expansion of knowledge is a powerful antidote to the slavery of ignorance. 

President Taylor, at the conclusion of this ceremony I propose to correct an entry in the Wikipedia under the heading 'Jimmy Wales' I will change, 'Mr. Wales will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Knox College on June 03, 2006' to 'has received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.' 

Mr. President, It is my honor to present Jimmy Wales for the degree of Doctor of Laws.