Ed Helms knows something about being defined by the media. 'The Office' and 'Hangover' actor, who has worked in Hollywood for years, understands it's hard to escape the scrutiny and sensationalism that comes with the territory. That's why he was the perfect person to give this year's commencement address at the University of Virginia.
UVA had a rollercoaster year, thanks to some sloppy reporting by Rolling Stone magazine. It all started when writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely reported on a rape allegation at a UVA fraternity. The resulting piece, "A Rape on Campus," was filled with exaggerations and ethics issues, including the fact Erdely failed to contact the accused party. Because of the countless holes, Rolling Stone was forced to retract the report.
However, that wasn't before the eager media ran with it and more or less tried to define the fraternity as heartless misogynists. It got so bad, UVA even suspended all of its fraternities following the story's release.
UVA isn't letting Rolling Stone get away with it. Last week, they sued the magazine for $7.5 million. At Saturday's graduation, Helms applauded the school for not letting the media define their character.
“This community didn’t fall for the fallacy that just because Rolling Stone was wrong everything here must be perfectly peachy. You all had the courage to understand you can be outraged at Rolling Stone and still ask yourselves hard questions: if sexual violence does occur in our community, do we have the best possible protocols and resources available to our students? And UVA is charging forward to answer those questions and you should be proud of that.”
He also couldn't help taking a humorous dig at the magazine for their inept journalism.
I know the UVA community has some experience with being defined by outsiders. It has been said that a rolling stone gathers no moss. I would add that sometimes a rolling stone also gathers no verifiable facts or even the tiniest morsels of journalistic integrity.
The UVA-Rolling Stone debacle is just the latest example of the media's liberal agenda. Without any true evidence as to whether the rape allegation was true, they ignored journalstic integrity and decided to characterize all fraternities as unsafe environments for young women.
Helms's message is one students need to hear as they prepare to enter the real world. They're inevitably going to face criticism and rejection at different points in their lives and they need the courage to reject and respond to it.
Helms's speech comes after another famous actor offered an emotional and inspirational commencement address. When Denzel Washington spoke at Dillard University, he had the right priorities in mind and insisted the young graduates need to "put God first." Michelle Obama, on the other hand, while speaking at Tuskegee University, decided it would be best to rile the crowd by stirring racial tensions.
Kudos to Helms for using his Hollywood status to not show himself off, but to motivate these impressionable young adults. It will no doubt help them to put the past year's unfair headlines behind them.