Guest Editorial: Commencement politics
Commencement speakers generally follow a standard format: a personal anecdote, a few jokes, and a bit of advice to help the young graduates lead satisfying and fruitful lives. Be bold, they say. Take risks. Use sunscreen.
Decent suggestions, but perhaps more fitting for the times would be this: Don’t be so damn sensitive. Don’t be so sure you’re right. Don’t be so quick to silence those who have a different point of view than your own.
Those are lessons sorely needed at Scripps College, which is engaged this week in the latest rite of spring: commencement speaker outrage. In this case the speaker is Madeleine Albright, the former U.S. secretary of State and ambassador to the U.N.
As a small women’s liberal arts college, Scripps can’t compete with bigger universities that pay for big names and should be pleased to have secured Albright for its commencement. Speakers in recent years have included a spoken word poet, a sculptor and the founder of a nonprofit humanitarian organization — all interesting and accomplished women, but none on par with Albright, who shattered one of the highest glass ceilings in U.S. government.
Albright is a smart, seasoned diplomat and scholar with a lot to say about U.S. foreign policy. Yet, some students and faculty would rather not hear it because, they assert, she has “blood on her hands” for her role in imposing sanctions on Iraq, sending military aid to Colombia and hindering action that could have saved lives during the genocide in Rwanda. (Also, it irks some that Albright had the temerity to suggest that “there is a special place in hell” for women who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton.)
It’s true that bad things happened during the Clinton administration, as they do during most U.S. presidencies. But is Albright really a “war criminal,” as some students have charged? Does she belong in a category with Bashar Assad and Pol Pot? That strikes us as excessive.
Especially distressing is the response by some members of the Scripps faculty. In an open letter, 28 faculty members said they will boycott the official Saturday procession ceremony because “we should promote the advancement of women and transgender peoples broadly and not simply emulate and celebrate those individuals who participate in U.S. state power and wield its violence.”
In our opinion, they should be there for their students, and if they don’t like what they hear, they don’t have to clap.
As for Albright, we’re glad she will be there to broaden the minds of students, who should be exposed to a wide range of opinions and ideas, even those they disagree with.