Commence to Protestin'

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: May 22, 2006 12:37 PM

I didn't go to my college commencement ceremony. Going would have required sitting for several hours waiting for the university president to call "Grady School of Journalism," so the 300 or so of us could stand together and move our tassles.

That waiting would have taken place for several hours under the Georgia summer sun in the middle of Sanford Stadium. And, everyone knows I don't do that unless there's football involved.

I have no idea who my commencement speaker was, but clearly I wasn't excited enough to attend. But I tell you one thing. If I had gone, and it had been some kind of loony lefty speaking (and the likelihood is pretty good), I would have had the manners not to stand up and turn my little, exhibitionist, holier-than-thou, 22-year-old back on anyone.

It really takes just a modicum of hometraining to know that ain't right. If you don't like the speaker, protest outside, write a message on your mortar board, write a letter to the editor, carry a sign before and after graduation, stick your fingers in your ears during the address, but sit there like a decent person and at least pretend to have respect, if not for the speaker, for your fellow students.

It's not oppression; it's etiquette.

This goes double for speakers whose offices deserve a bit of respect regardless of their ideologies. Like, say, the Vice President or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice.

That said, count me pleasantly surprised by the conduct of the Boston College crowd:

A few students turned their backs but more stood to applaud as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received an honorary degree and addressed graduates at Boston College on Monday.

After weeks of turmoil and anti-war protests over Rice's invitation to address the Catholic school, Rice told graduates that their education comes with responsibilities...

About 50 students stood with their backs toward the stage as Rice was introduced to give her commencement speech, but they were quickly drowned out by a standing ovation.

A half-dozen signs that said "Not in my name" were held in the air by students, who sat down by the time Rice started to speak. One banner that said "BC honors lies and torture" was held on the side of the stadium, away from where the students were sitting.

Other students cheered Rice, and an Internet broadcast of the ceremony included a shot of a student, talking on his cell phone, with an "I Like Condi" button pinned to his graduation cap.

John at PowerLine was also pleasantly surprised, by the speaker at his daughter's Yale graduation-- Anderson Cooper.

And, of course, John McCain's lessons in respectfully disagreeing were lost on one New College student who sucker-punched him with a speech that was high on disagreement and low on respect (and, pricelessly, contained the words "speak truth to power," employed seemingly without irony).

Once again, if you disagree with the commencement speaker, fine. If you want to vocally disagree with the speaker in your speech, fine. You earned your speech slot. Just do it with a little bit of class, and some respect for your fellow students who may just want to hear the speeches and go eat barbecue without the appetizer of self-righteousness.

I should add that a McCain staffer's response to New School's Jean Rohe was lacking in the respect department as well.

I disagree with Sen. McCain on many issues. I know several conservative bloggers who, if given the chance, would likely "speak truth to power" on the subject of McCain-Feingold. I would hope they'd do it with more facts and less ranting than Rohe did, and preferably in a way that didn't catch an entire graduating class and their families in the crossfire. It just seems rude to me.

Also, in the interest of respectful disagreement, I'm going to disagree with McCain's decision to take a cheap shot at bloggers in the sixth paragraph of his speech. Yes, some blogging is loud and brash and young and arrogant, but as per his own speech, those bloggers should be respected for the fact that they're working passionately to "answer the demands of their consciences".

Other blogging provokes just the arguing that McCain attempts to encourage. I think he's missing out on exactly what he wants by turning his nose up at it-- not to mention probably ticking off some young, arrogant, passionate blogger in the next commencement audience who may have an itch to "speak truth to power."

UPDATE: Kim at Wizbang! is with me on this.

When I received my master's degree, my commencement speaker was Gloria Steinem. I didn't I agree with Gloria Steinem on anything then, and I still don't now, but when she spoke it didn't occur to me to do anything to disrupt her speech. To do so would have been rude.

She also has more info on Condi's fairly warm reception at BC.