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Put the politics aside

Cornelius Rogers | Tuesday, February 1, 2011

You’ve heard it all before. The usual Commencement speaker viewpoint hoopla. The Commencement speaker is too boring or too controversial. This person shouldn’t be awarded an honorary degree. Why can’t we ever get someone cool? Yada, yada, yada. But when I heard that our Commencement speaker was Defense Secretary Gates, the only cabinet member to serve under both President Bush and Obama, I thought we would avoid this hullabaloo. I was mistaken. Mr. Linskey (“Gates the wrong choice for Commencement speaker,” Jan. 31) has made things political, once again. No matter who the commencement speaker is, there will always be someone who has a gripe with it.

Mr. Linskey equates the conferral of an honorary degree to Defense Secretary Gates with “a tacit endorsement of the Bush and Obama administrations’ foreign policies.” What Mr. Linskey does not note is that the University has conferred honorary degrees on all U.S. presidents since Eisenhower. If Mr. Linskey’s claim were true, then the University has “tacitly endorsed” all U.S. foreign policies since the 1950s. Perhaps we should see the conferral of an honorary degree as a sign of respect for our government leaders instead of a political judgment.

Mr. Linskey gripes that Defense Secretary Gates has stolen his thunder by becoming the “centerpiece” of the Commencement. Oh contraire, my friend. The centerpiece of that Commencement day is what you make of it. Will it be when you receive your diploma or when you sing the Alma Mater one last time? You decide.

Mr. Linskey concludes by quoting a Scripture passage out of context and deems it self-explanatory. If I wanted to do that, I would have pointed to the passage where Jesus says, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you but rather division!” (Lk 12:51). But that is a poor method of argumentation.

Biblical hermeneutics aside, I do not have strong feelings either way about the choice of Gates as the Commencement speaker. I personally feel that the greatest asset a Commencement speaker has to offer is (surprise, surprise) his speech. If the former director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense can offer unique insight to the Class of 2011, then I have no qualms with conferring on him an honorary degree, regardless of his political views. So let’s keep quiet about whether or not Gates was a good choice or not until we hear him speak on May 22.

Cornelius Rogers


Keenan Hall

Jan. 31