Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Constitution: It's more than just a piece of parchment

See update at the bottom of this post...

This weekend's Huffington Post happens to feature two commencement speeches, one because Jean Sara Rohe, the student speaker, at the commencement exercises at The New School, in New York, delivered a stirring speech that not only preceded Senator McCain's speech (in its third delivery in a commencement setting) but critiqued it mercilessly, and the other because Catherine Crier used the opportunity of her speech at Case Western University to discuss the importance of our Constitution, concluding with these words:

I am going to add my voice to the many other commencement speakers who call upon you to take up the torch, to confront the many challenges of our time and to make the world a better place. But I must say to you that these are not platitudes, they are mandates. You can try to remain safe by ignoring the warning signs. You can join the ‘system’ and hope to get yours before things tumble out of control. Or you can use your knowledge to wield the power of a free people to protect and defend this great democracy and the rule of law. Choose wisely, because our future is literally in your hands.
And finally, I leave you with these words from Ernest Hemingway. “The world kills people who are particularly gentle, courageous or brave. Now, if you’re none of these, the world will kill you too. It just won’t be in such a hurry.”
Jean Rohe's post discusses her reasons for rewriting her speech the night before her commencement, and includes the complete text of her speech as well, which began with a lyric:

If all the world were peaceful now and forever more,

Peaceful at the surface and peaceful at the core,

All the joy within my heart would be so free to soar,

And we're living on a living planet, circling a living star.

Don't know where we're going but I know we're going far.

We can change the universe by being who we are,

And we're living on a living planet, circling a living star.

Welcome everyone on this beautiful afternoon to the commencement ceremony for the New School class of 2006. That was an excerpt of a song I learned as a child called "Living Planet" by Jay Mankita. I chose to begin my address this way because, as always, but especially now, we are living in a time of violence, of war, of injustice. I am thinking of our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in Darfur, in Sri Lanka, in Mogadishu, in Israel/Palestine, right here in the U.S., and many, many other places around the world. And my deepest wish on this day--on all days--is for peace, justice, and true freedom for all people. The song says, "We can change the universe by being who we are," and I believe that it really is just that simple.

There's more, and it's well worth the read, as is Crier's.

UPDATE: two additional links that relate to the story of McCain's appearance at The New School...

In the first one, "My husband was racially profiled at the New School Graduation," appeard as a diary on the Daily Kos, and relates the experience of the Arab husband of writer when he was denied admission to his own graduation, after six years of hard work and sacrifice.

The second one, by creative writing teacher Jan Clausen, which actually led me to the first one, relates a lot of the background story surrounding McCain's selection as commencement speaker, including the fact that, in future, such selections will not be made solely at the discretion of the institution's president, but must be approved by the same academic committee responsible for awarding the honorary degrees.


Blogger Thursday Next said...

Rohe's speech was incredibly powerful. The comments about her story are thoughtful and supportive. And they are all right, McCain should be ashamed of himself.

7:57 PM  
Blogger Thursday Next said...

Oh, and thank you Lyssa for bringing this to our attention.

7:57 PM  

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