Monday, May 23, 2005
Whole Lotta Nothing
In 1966, NYU gave Robert MacNamara an honorary degree. Hundreds of students walked out of the commencement ceremony.
Wonder Woman and I made a lightning trip up to Lewisburg, PA, this weekend for the graduation of our niece from Bucknell U. The girl has done astonishingly well for herself -- summa cum laude, GPA so fat you have to stand on a ladder to see it, an embarrassment of academic honors. Education major. Good kid.
[Later: In the Comments area, Wonder Woman issues a sharp wrench on the leash: " Actually Neddie, our niece received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chemistry and in Psychology. I think Education was a minor." Chastened, I beseech forgiveness from both aunt and niece.]
Wish I could say the same for the rest of her generation.
Through the whole commencement ceremony, I was bothered by the creepy sensation I had stumbled into a cloud of cotton wool: I kept looking for something to grab hold of, but my fingers kept closing on mist. It was a strange, floating feeling, quite unpleasant.
The keynote speaker was former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. In TV sound bites, I've always thought he came off as a bit of a cipher. This impression was not in the least scotched by watching him in the Long Form: He is not one of the world's distinguished public speakers. His speech was the usual collection of platitudes one might expect from a lifelong bureaucrat, about the High Calling and Sacrifice of Public Service. This would be fine coming from, oh, I don't know, a career ambassador or a talented and honest District Attorney, but Ridge has, well, a bit more to talk about than that.
And he didn't. Perhaps his mind was on what would be making headlines in the next day's papers, I don't know. He tiptoed around the War on Terra like a man frightened to death of being heckled -- and the only time he opened himself up for it was when he spoke of the bond of trust between a people and its government as sacred and inviolable. At this point, I would have expected something, the tiniest hint of dissent, a whisper, a slight stirring, a cough, a mutter.
I leaned over to Wonder Woman at this point and began to whisper heatedly at her. This is her niece's graduation, and at the slightest hint that I was going to make any sort of scene at all, her elbow cracked a couple of my ribs.
But if Ridge was frustrating, the academics surrounding him on the dais were simply infuriating. At a time when academic freedom is under an attack more vicious than any it's known since the McCarthy era, when professors are called on to meet ideological purity standards, when charlatans litigate pseudoscience into our schools with impunity, when the Enlightenment itself is being subverted by people who know damned well what they're doing -- you'd think the Egghead Set might have a few things on their minds.
Not a word.
Sadly, I think the reason the profs so studiously ignored the 800-pound gorilla in the room was that they didn't want to ungraciously spoil the pseudo-Medieval pomp-and-circumstance show they were putting on for the 'Rents -- who were, after all, the ones footing the bill for it. To which I reply, If you can't find a way to rip Tom Ridge and the miserable bastard he worked for into tiny little bits without disturbing the horses, you should hang up your goddamned spikes.
I would reserve my most concentrated vitriol for the kid who gave a Valedictory speech of remarkable vapidity, but that wouldn't be fair. None of the grownups set much of an example.
(I'm given to understand things were pretty polite at other commencement addresses too...)