Saturday, August 30, 2014
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Let's stop having political commencement speakers, OK?

Political controversy ruins the happy day that is commencement.

Let's stop having political commencement speakers, OK?

Should political figures stop giving commencement speeches altogether?
Should political figures stop giving commencement speeches altogether?

Last week, I told you about how Rutgers University wanted to normalize the criminal behavior (the crimes that are never prosecuted are usually the worst ones) of the Bush administration in launching the unjustified Iraq War, by awarding an "honorary" degree to Condoleezza Rice and handing her a $35,000 check. Some students and faculty understandably rebelled, and they won. Rice will not be speaking.

This was not about free speech. We constantly ask our institutions -- and Rutgers is a public university -- to instill morals in the young people who will be our leaders some day. That being that case, what does it teach our children when we tell them that invading a sovereign nation under false pretenses not only has no consequences but that all can be forgotten and you can be treated as a voice of wisdom? This, in a world when so many everyday heroes go unrecognized. The fact that some students -- who could have easily sat on their rear ends and played video games -- were willing to take a risk and make a stand against honoring Rice is both impressive and reassuring.

Now it's a good time to step back, though, and look deeper. The controversy over Rice appearing and now not appearing has infuriated campus conservatives at Rutgers. And it was just a few weeks ago that some parents in Kansas -- a pretty conservative...OK, a really, really conservative place -- got worked up about First Lady Michelle Obama speaking at high school graduations there. The two controversies had some similarities and some differences -- in Kansas, many parents insisted their complaints were more grounded in the hassles of Secret Service-level security, and the notion that a big-name celebrity was stealing the spotlight from a son or daughter's hard-earned diploma.

Personally, I just told you how I feel about Rice and I don't get the negative passion that some feel toward the First Lady -- probably the only person in America who could make broccoli and playground exercise into controversial topics. You may disagree.

But maybe we can agree on this: Why don't we just bag politicians speaking at commencements...period. Nothing really good comes of it. It's not like our politicians are suffering for a lack of venues to make speeches. Those parents in Kansas -- whom I might disagree with on virtually everything else -- had a point...why overshadow a day to honor student achievement? Let the students and their beloved teachers speak, and if there must be an inspirational speaker from the community, there's no shortage of non-partisan role models to draw from.

In 2014, a Republican speaker -- or a Democratic speaker -- is guaranteed to piss off half the people, on a day when 100 percent of the people are supposed to be happy. And what's gained? Look, I know a lot of people -- especially journalistic people, for some reason -- want everybody to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" when it comes to politics, but it would be better to be honest with ourselves. This isn't 1865 -- or even 1965 -- but we are a seriously divided nation these days. Call it the Cold Civil War...but it's real. Graduation Day is the perfect time for a holiday truce.

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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