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Some grad speakers can generate heat; others not

In Our Opinion

 


Graduation speakers are a hot topic these days. It’s that time of year as colleges and high schools churn out their latest product lines.

The speaker that got people the hottest under the collar was former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. And she never uttered a word on the stage.

Rice was invited to speak at the commencement for Rutgers University in New Jersey. But her ties to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while serving in the administration of George W. Bush — and allegations from students and professors that she played a part in alleged torture tactics and branded a war criminal — caused Rice to withdraw from the invite.

Rice did not want to take away from the true focus at Rutgers that day — the graduates — but the Cheney Free Press editorial board thinks she missed an opportunity.

Rutgers historian, professor Rudy Bell argued on juancole.com that while it would be appropriate to have Rice on campus as part of an academic debate, “She is unsuitable as a commencement speaker because of her role in an administration that launched an illegal and destructive war and practiced torture.”

Then there were speeches that were delivered, but met with little appreciation, like the 45-minute address delivered by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, May 28.

That address was on the opposite end of the Fahrenheit scale as the president received cool response to his global theme — including global warming — and received restrained applause. Even the bastions of liberal journalism, the New York Times and Washington Post, talked of the tepid treatment the president received.

Some other notable dignitaries that have, or will take to the dais in 2014 include a well-rounded mix of those powerful in politics, business and Hollywood.

Former president Bill Clinton delivered the address at New York University-Abu Dhabi’s inaugural commencement exercises May 25. Vice President Joe Biden has a busy schedule that included speaking at his alma mater, Delaware.

Jill Abramson, fresh from her firing as executive editor of The New York Times, addressed the grads at Wake Forest University. General Motors president, Mary Barra, in the midst of a massive recall crisis, spoke in her home state at the University of Michigan.

Actor/comedian Jim Carrey told those at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, “I was concerned about going out into the world and doing something bigger than myself, until someone smarter than myself made me realize that there is nothing bigger than myself.” And among other things, actress Sandra Bullock told students at Warren Easton Charter High School’s graduation in New Orleans, “Do not pick your nose in public.”

Funny thing, nothing that was said at these speeches garnered much attention. Bets are this is the first you heard about others in the who’s who during the current graduation speaking season?

Obviously Rice commanded the most attention in the world of higher education that few can argue certainly tilts to the left side of the political spectrum. Or maybe whatever Howard University grads learned from Sean “Puffy” Combs — described as an “entrepreneur and entertainment mogul” — might too have been newsworthy.

Rice chose not to be a distraction. But was that her best option? Might it have been a good idea to engage her critics? Not on stage of course, but, perhaps in a separate forum? Rice missed an opportunity that would have garnered significant attention to tell her side of the story.

College students could gain good insight from hearing an opposing view, which, believe it or not, abound when they enter the real world after leaving the college cocoon.

They could take a moment to be open-minded and respectful of other people’s opinions. They may not agree with the message but who knows, they may leave with a new opinion and a fresh perspective.

That would be pretty cool in today’s heated climate of public opinion.

 

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