Reading about a University of Baltimore winter graduate standing with his back turned to commencement speaker Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — his fist in the air — and then seeing the photograph and video, made me feel almost physically ill. “Not My Commencement Speaker” on caps? A blanket disapproval of anything at all related to President Trump? Has no one heard of civil discourse? Due process? Innocent until proven guilty? How about the basic manners your mother taught you?
Although some University of Baltimore students and faculty expressed their specific grievances with DeVos based upon her views and actions, or merely because their friends and associates didn’t like her, as a graduation speaker well before graduation, school president Kurt Schmoke wisely chose not to rescind her invitation. Instead, Schmoke highlighted a basic tenet of higher education: the ability to hear and consider varying viewpoints. Had he buckled to the protesters’ pressure, the buckling surely would have chilled the heart of any free speech loving American.
Having the honor of attending a college graduation — either receiving a degree or watching a family member or friend matriculate — is not like going to the movies or a concert where you get to pick the topic and see the performers you like. You go see “An Inconvenient Truth” or “American Sniper” because you know you’ll enjoy those movies based upon your confirmation bias. Not so with commencement speeches, which can be a grab bag of potential, like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. Sometimes you don’t know how incredibly delicious or stomach-churningly awful it is going to be until you bite into it.
In May, I had the joy of attending my youngest daughter’s graduation from Gettysburg College, where I spent well over a quarter of a million unsubsidized dollars on her four-year liberal arts education. At that ceremony, parents who had shelled out for unfathomable amounts of tuition, were lectured about how we all are “racists” and must do a better job with “inclusion.”
Did I like the message? No. Did I pay attention to the speaker, listening closely trying to discern why in the world she would judge me without having met me, perhaps finding some roundabout logic to her conclusions? You bet I did! I listened to every unhappy and accusatory word, researched the speaker after the fact, and attempted to bring more understanding to what had transpired that day.
What I did not do was disrupt the proceedings, disrespect the speaker or attempt to stop the speaker from preaching her negativity to the graduates and parents. Do I wish we had a different speaker that day? Yup. Unfortunately, that was not an option for me, nor is it an option for the protesting University of Baltimore graduates and staff.
And what did Ms. DeVos say that so incensed the fist-raising graduate? She said: “We will do well to first listen, study, ponder — then speak to genuinely engage those with whom we disagree. Voices that are quiet at first grow in strength, while those who rush to shout are humbled.”
Would the protester have been so outraged if that sentiment had been uttered by former President Barack Obama or a member of his cabinet? What is so offensive in Ms. DeVos’ observation? Nothing that I can see, other than the fact that she uttered it.
The protesting graduate stated: “Raising my fist was my way of saying, ‘resist.’ . . .This is a public university and I don’t feel like any of her views represent the student body here.”
There are so many things wrong with this thinking. How does this student know what views “represent the student body”? And even if he did know, is the way to deal with competing views to keep another person from sharing his or her observations or opinions? Whether a panel discussion, lecture or commencement speech, all views must be allowed, not just those these protesters want to hear.
This divisiveness has gone too far. Civility and common sense must replace the current hypocrisy running rampant throughout today’s protests.
Paula Fargo is a rational business owner in Baltimore City. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.