For most colleges and universities, graduation ceremonies took place within the past two weeks. However, not all of them had a headline commencement speaker, thanks in part to student protests. Condoleeza Rice, who was scheduled to speak at Rutgers University graduation backed out amid student protests against her connections with the Iraq war. Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, was scheduled to speak at Smith College, but also had to back out amid student protests. These were just the first two in a long list of commencement speakers who have resigned the speech giving duty because they were not wanted.
While some would say good for the students to stand up for what they believe it, I would disagree. If you want to take a stand because you’re against the policies of Ms. Rice, or Ms. Lagarde, and you want to drive social change, putting duct tape over someone’s mouth isn’t going to do it. (At least not for the long-haul.) I would instead suggest actually listening to the speech, and if there is something you disagree with, use your shiny new degree and craft a well thought out, well researched opinion piece that stands in opposition.
Additionally, silencing those you disagree with reeks of egotism. New college graduates are known to think they know it all, only to be humbled six weeks after graduation when they still don’t have a job. What I’m trying to get at is this: The whole point of higher education is to expand your human, technical, and conceptual skills. Even if there is a teacher or speaker that you disagree with, can you still not learn from that person? How unfortunate for the graduates of these two universities that at the graduate’s last moments of higher education, instead of being filled with powerful words from some of the world’s greatest leaders, were instead regulated to a mediocre and generic speech instead. One of my most influential professors, Dr. Mark Clark told me on the phone one time, “Don’t think you’re smart; the minute you think you’re smart, you stop learning and fall behind.” It is a common complaint among many businesses that current MBA graduates have a too narrowly focused education, and miss the “big picture”. These recent protests only add to that problem. I sincerely believe that you learn most from those you disagree with.