I am going to write something that may shock and offend some of you. Perhaps you will never want to read or hear anything I have to say, ever again, once you've read my next statement.
Here goes: I wish Condoleezza Rice had given the Rutgers commencement address instead of Eric LeGrand (along with Tom Kean).
Don't get me wrong: Mr. LeGrand is a fine young man who gave what might be one of the few commencement speeches actually worth listening to. I mean, he has faced more adversity in the past four years than most of us (at least those of us living in the industrialized world) will ever know. He made intelligent yet heartfelt statements that would sound like tin-tongued platitudes coming from most other speakers.
So why would I have preferred to see the most feckless -- if not the most mendacious or simply the most ignorant -- secretary of state in the history of this country take the podium on the Banks of the Raritan?
The wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed the university's announcement that they were bringing her up to send their new graduates off into the world should have been a signal that she was the right choice. As some have pointed out, one of the purposes of higher education is to provide a forum for people and views that might not be very popular with certain segments of the population.
Now I'm going to confess something: I like to see a ruckus every now and again. Actually, more than every now and again: I watch Jerry Springer's show every chance I get. I stopped watching The View because putting four or five famous, opinionated women on the same show ought to result in catfights more often than it does.
Yes, I would have loved to hear
young people who are about to become indebted and unemployed new graduates hoot and holler when she said whatever it is that she would have said -- which probably wouldn't have been much different from what any number of other commencement speakers have said at graduations all over the world. I wouldn't have minded seeing those fresh-faced young people toss their caps at her instead of into the air. Perhaps she wouldn't have been able to finish her speech.
Granted, she would have had more than a few sympathizers in the audience. There are some people for whom no amount of education is a defense against, or antidote to, political and other official kinds of lying -- or the abetment of such falsehoods. (There are people who still believe Obama is a Muslim who wasn't born in the U.S.)
But, as a Rutgers alumna, I have faith that the majority of young people at the ceremony learned enough during their time at Old Queens to see her for what she is and to know how to act or react. Even if standards have declined since I graduated, I'm sure that the young people walking up to that podium I ascended more years ago than I care to admit recognize that she enabled one of the costliest -- in spiritual as well as economic terms -- lies anyone has ever perpetrated in the history of this country.
Even if they have never taken an economics course (I took one, and all I remember is MR=MC, whatever that means), they must know that the lie she helped promulgate is one of the reasons that some of them don't have jobs lined up and maybe still won't have a job a year from now or even later -- or ever. It's also one of the reasons that they pay more in tuition for one course than students in my generation paid for a whole year -- if we paid tuition at all.
Perhaps my hopes are misplaced. After all, most people in the audience -- graduates and their friends and families, and officials -- weren't thinking about the fact that the adversities that LeGrand has had to overcome are a direct result of his time at Rutgers. Four years ago he was paralyzed as the result of a tackle during a game against West Point.
As much as I love sports, I have never been happy about my alma mater's
delusions aspirations of becoming the Notre Dame on the Raritan. Turning American colleges and universities into the farm system for the NFL and NBA has subverted the original goals of intercollegiate athletic competition, and of the academic enterprise itself. Boosters and alumni associations are swelled with the same sort of belligerent jingoism about their school's sports as much of the citizenry is about their nation when it goes to battle; in both sport and war, there is a ruling class that smells potential profits and will go to any lengths -- including exploitation of the young and poor (and, too often, dark-hued) to reap the windfall.
To the boosters, as to much of the citizenry, LeGrand is a tragic hero. But to those who run the Rutgers sports programs, he is nothing more than collateral damage, just as all those broken young men and women who return home from Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries we
invade liberate from terror are to the warmongers -- including Dr. Rice.
Whether or not those new Rutgers graduates received as good an education as I hope they have, they probably don't (or don't want to) realize that when Eric LeGrand gave his speech, he was being exploited by the Rutgers administration just as much as he was when he was playing on the football team. That is to say, he was being exploited as much as any soldier, sailor, flyer or other military service member who lost an eye, an ear, a limb or any other part of his or her body or self and was called upon to give a speech at some celebration of militarism.
If this year's Rutgers graduates understood as much, they probably would or should have been as upset at their school's decision to bring in Eric LeGrand in place of Condoleezza Rice. But, of course, they would not have taken their wrath out on him. On the other hand, they just might have run Dr. Race off the stage. That I would have paid to see!
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