We Don’t Need Your Stinking Commencement Speech

By Scott Keith


An interesting development has occurred over the past several weeks as many colleges move forward with their end of the year commencement ceremonies. Many commencement speakers who at some point during the year were chosen by administrations and faculties have been rejected by the students. The point of contention often seems to surround some actual or perceived offense, or “micro-aggression” (micro-aggressions are common verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile or negative slights to marginalized groups), these commencement speakers have committed at some point in the past. Once challenged, or rejected, by the students, these commencement speakers seem to have out of hand in turn rejected the invitation to speak. In a more interesting development, several replacement commencement speakers have used the opportunity to absolutely lamb baste the students for their rejection of those who were originally chosen to speak in honor of their graduation.

The commencement speakers in question who were rejected are: (1) International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde; (2) Condoleezza Rice; (3) American Enterprise Institute fellow Ayaan Hirsi Ali; (4) and former president of UC Berkley, Robert Birgeneau. These speakers were rejected for a variety of reasons and some received a list of redresses that they would need to complete prior to being allowed to speak. Understandably, all of these speakers simply bailed out. But if these speakers were deserving of such derision by the “elite” student bodies at some of the countries best schools, why did so many of the replacement speakers come to their defense? The answer seems simple…

We are all a bit tired of 18-22 year old young adults treating the rest of us from the perspective of arrogance, entitlement, and an unearned sense of internal overly stated self importance.

I have a certain respect for those students in the 60s and 70s who protested against actual evil occurring in the world and in their country. For God’s sake, people were being kidnapped and killed in our own streets due to the color of their skin, denied voting rights due to race or gender, treated as second class citizens in the work place for the same reasons, and wholly drafted to fight in a war the goals of which were at the very least confusing and somewhat undefined. Now I’m not saying that things are perfect today, they aren’t, but nonetheless, if this is all still happening students wouldn’t be whining about micro-aggressions.


Now I am probably understating the student’s concerns due to ignorance on my part over all of the specific reasons for rejecting these speakers. But nonetheless, I know that there is a pervasive attitude among students that can only be summed up by saying that they lack grit. The modern student seems to lack the ability to endure any offense whatsoever. This is inevitably going to be a problem as these coddled students enter a world that is unable, or unwilling, to coddle them through their every difficulty. Our culture is founded on the idea that people are encouraged to express their point of view and the hearers, you and me, filter their perspective and incorporate what we perceive as good and reject what we perceive as bad. If this generation is too fragile to even hear a perspective with which they do not agree or find offensive, our culture will truly be lost.

For a much more lucid response to this new phenomenon, please read the actual commencement address of former Princeton President William Bowen gets an honorary degree at Haverford—shortly before unloading on students as ‘immature,’ May 18. In his words, “Students who demand emotional pampering deserve intellectual derision.” I couldn’t agree more.