Reporting for the Washington Post more than a year ago, Paul Farhi highlighted a pair of college commencement speakers who backed out after vocal protests from students.
Renowned neurosurgeon and conservative folk hero Ben Carson withdrew his speaking role at Johns Hopkins following an uproar over his remarks on homosexuality, while former World Bank president Robert Zoellick did the same at Swarthmore College, his alma mater, over objections to his past support of the Iraq War and his record at the institution.
“College campuses are supposed to be marketplaces of ideas,” Farhi wrote. “But some ideas, and some people, are less welcome than others these days.”
Farhi’s story could easily serve as a template for this year, too — and the year after that and the year after that. Indeed, as Farhi noted, protests surrounding commencement speakers “have become so common that they’re practically a springtime ritual, like the opening of the baseball season or the blossoming of daffodils.”
It should surprise no one then that this year’s commencement preparations followed a similar pattern, with Condoleezza Rice, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde and former University of California-Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgenau all backing out of their speaking slots following protests from students and faculty alike.
And yet, the reaction to this latest string of withdrawals suggests that the commencement protests have been unusually high this year or are symptomatic of a narrow-minded generation.
In a particularly glib column for The Daily Beast, Olivia Nuzzi wrote that her fellow millennials need to “STFU” and listen to perspectives that differ from their own.
“Millennials have grown up in a world where you are never forced to see, hear or read anything that you haven’t personally selected. 7,000 TV channels, a DVR to skip commercials, millions of websites—we have been able to curate our own little worlds using technology, wherein nothing unpleasant or offensive can creep in,” Nuzzi wrote.
“So when we’re forced to sit through a commercial or, heaven forbid, listen to someone talk who isn’t Mary-freakin’-Poppins, we can’t handle it.”
If only Nuzzi had been around to scold Vassar College’s class of 1980, which chased out conservative icon William Buckley Jr. as its commencement speaker. Or the class of 1987 at Lafayette College, which pressured former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick from delivering a speech and receiving an honorary degree.
The protests aren’t even limited to college students, campus “leftists” or, for that matter, graduation ceremonies. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln nixed a planned speech in the fall of 2008 by Weather Underground co-founder Bill Ayers after criticism from conservative bloggers and the state’s Republican governor.
Pro-life activists and other conservative Catholics vocally objected to President Obama’s commencement address at Notre Dame in 2009. John D’Arcy, the late Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop, boycotted the school’s commencement that year, just as he did in 1992 when Notre Dame honored former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY).
Unlike Rice, Lagarde and Birgenau, Obama and Moynihan went ahead as scheduled despite the noisy complaints.