Well, college graduation time is approaching. This is one of my favorite times of the year, because I happen to work for a college located in a city, and I find it's way easier to find a parking space without all those students around.
But it's also the time of year for commencement speakers, and the usual debate over if some schools choices are innappropriate. Some, in my opinion, clearly are - like having a convicted cop killer
as your speaker.
But moving beyond the obvious judgement calls - I believe colleges should be firmly against cop-killing - the debate becomes murkier, and I tend to side with academic freedom and letting people speak despite their political views.
For example, while I dislike Kofi Annan and the UN in general, and find Clifford May's column
rather entertaining, I can't really fault UPenn for having him as their commencement speaker. He is the leader of a multinational agency that many respect, even if I firmly believe that that respect is misplaced and dangerous.
My own alma mater
is also getting some controversy over it's choice of speaker, former NY mayor Rudy Guliani. Oddly enough, those complaints aren't coming from the left, but rather from the far right - the Cardninal Newman Society, a group that seeks to "renew the Catholic identity of Catholic colleges" is asking people to write letters and emails of protest
because they feel he is too pro-choice and pro-gay.
The Cardinal Newman group has in the past complained about the Vagina Monologues
being performed at colleges. Now I will agree that from what I've heard, the Monologues sound like total crap. But that doesn't mean I would advocate their censorship at a Catholic college. The group basically sounds like they want to make Catholic colleges more like other Christian colleges, where everyone who goes is of that religion and practices it daily. The atmosphere at most Catholic schools - where there is religious diversity, but students have church and religious activities available to them if they choose to participate - seems like a much better way of treating college students like adults and letting them choose how they practice their faith - as well as opening students up to opposing viewpoints, even silly ones involving the word "vagina".
Getting back to commencement - given a choice, I would rather have a well-known speaker who I disagreed with than an unmemorable one. I don't even remeber who my college graduation speaker was, despite it being only 3 years ago, and despite not even being all that hung over at graduation. I think many take commencement too seriously - I think commencement speakers are more about entertainment and less about an endorsement of that speaker's viewpoints.
And the fact is, graduation isn't really about the students. I didn't really see my graduation as a big deal, except for the fact that I got some money and a few good meals out of it. It was more for my family - a chance for my parents to see that all that money they spent on tuition hadn't been wasted, a chance for them to know that they had started me off on the right track education-wise, a chance for them to feel proud that their son had successfully moved up the educational ladder (neither of my parents are college grads). Getting up at 7am and wearing a silly gown, and listening to whoever the college has picked to speak, is the price that students pay for giving their parents this opportunity. Truth be told, few people really care about the commencement speaker. The parents who go to graduation are there for the students, and the students are there for their parents. The commencement speakers are there, if for any reason, to keep the faculty and administration entertained and generate some publicity for the school.