Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Commencement Controversy at MSU
For this year's undergraduate graduation at MSU, a very high profile person has accepted the invitation to be the commencement speaker. This person is Dr. Condoleezza Rice. She was invited personally by the president of the university, without consultation with the Board of Trustees or even a token few of the student leadership. It is an election year. Michigan is projected to be one of the most key swing states in the nation. Coincidence?

The Board of Trustees is rather upset. Many of the students are outraged. In a panel debate this evening on The Impact about the appropriateness of Dr. Rice as the speaker, it was pointed out that Dr. Rice will be speaking to what is basically a captive audience, made up of all the seniors and their families who actually care about formally witnessing the milestone of college graduation. Several students have in fact written to The State News to say that they find this choice so offensive, they will not be attending. An independent fund has been set up to support an alternative graduation celebration for all of the protesting students who feel they cannot attend the ceremony. A formal protest has also been organized, though the organizers hope it will not be too disruptive to the ceremony.

Politics aside, this choice strikes me as terribly inappropriate, just for the controversy it would inevitably cause. The point of graduation is not the speaker, it's the students. To so incredibly politicize the event is wrong, unless the student body is incredibly cohesive in its opinions, which is hardly likely in a graduating class of over 8,000. Several other political figures were suggested as alternatives in the panel debate tonight, and I noticed a telling difference between all of them and Dr. Rice. All of the alternatives were past political figures. History has already judged their actions. The repercussions of their actions have already been incorporated into the flow of current life. Dr. Rice and the administration she represents, however, are at the height of their power, and it was utterly inevitable that her scheduled appearance would cause major uproar. Her beliefs, ideas, and actions are still incredibly capable of shaping the future of the nation, not to mention the rest of the world. Whether or not she says anything overtly political in her speech, her very presence is politically charged to the point where it eclipses the event that is meant to be the central focus.

I'm glad I'm not an undergraduate right now. It would be very sad to have to make the decision to boycott my own graduation. This just reinforces to me how wonderful it was to have Robert Reich at my graduation from Grinnell. I think I'll go re-read his speech, rather than continue to think about how much this whole issue irritates me.

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