Commencement speech about civil liberties
December 17, 2001 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Commencement speech about civil liberties drowned out by hecklers. When the publisher of the Sacremento Bee's speech moved to topics regarding racial profiling, liberty, and the war on terrorism's effect on each, the friends and family of the students started stomping and clapping and making a nuisance, so much so that she couldn't continue. The speech, in its entirety, will be posted soon. via Drudge
posted by taumeson (37 comments total)

Yes, but now, instead of it being the literate elite, it's the population at large.

And instead of it being a commentary on the actual person, it's a commentary of one person's opinions.

And instead of it being a photo-op for a politician, it was a member of the media.
posted by taumeson at 9:00 AM on December 17, 2001

Well duh! Most people hate freedom, especially Americans.

I don't like it anymore than you do, but most people really love Fascism (see Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Slobodan Milosovic, etc. etc.)

Don't believe me? Guess you should read some 20th century history.
posted by zeb vance at 9:01 AM on December 17, 2001

Ach, Zeb, it's too early in the morning to go breaking my heart like that.
posted by muckster at 9:07 AM on December 17, 2001

Good point. People love control, plain and simple. It means security. And when somebody's OWN interests are in line with the controllers', then they'll go to extreme lengths to keep the controllers in power.

Frigging sheep.
posted by taumeson at 9:21 AM on December 17, 2001

Here is the text of the commencement address.
posted by fleener at 9:57 AM on December 17, 2001

posted by themikeb at 10:05 AM on December 17, 2001

A commencement ceremony is a day that belongs to everyone present and isn't a place to realize you've got a spotlight and a photo-op, and bring up touchy political subjects. There are more appropriate forums, especially in an academic environment. You'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind to not realize beforehand that this would stir emotions.
posted by tomorama at 10:23 AM on December 17, 2001

The Sacramento Bee's story quotes University President Don Gerth:
"Our students have a right to hear our speaker. I have never seen behavior like this. It is a day I will never forget. I am not proud of it."
posted by Carol Anne at 10:30 AM on December 17, 2001

That's right, tomorama - touchy political subjects should only be discussed when no one will notice.

To be honest, I can't think of a better time or place to discuss these issues than talking to new students, at a university. Academic study absolutely depends on freedom of expression for its validity. Students are supposed to have their minds expanded, not be fed with the commonplaces of the day (thoght they often are).

If you read the text, she was drawing to a stirring conclusion on participatory democracy entirely appropriate
to new students. But she never got there. What about the rudeness of shutting down an invited speaker, giving a serious speech on a matter of great importance? It doesn't say much for the audience.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:32 AM on December 17, 2001

Heckling tells more about the heckler than the speaker. And it's just plain rude. Cut it out, you buttholes.

The proper response to political ideas you don't agree with: listen politely, wait for speaker to finish, cut rhetoric to shreds in firm but polite tone. Same goes for differences in religious ideology. Then afterwards, cocktails.

If you are simply unable to do this, try ignoring them.

If you are simply unable to do that, try to retain your f***ing composure, Mister Self-Control.
posted by UncleFes at 10:42 AM on December 17, 2001

btw, I had to learn the above the hard way, same as you. It's doable.
posted by UncleFes at 10:43 AM on December 17, 2001

"isn't a place to realize you've got a spotlight and a photo-op"

Say what??? It is standard practice for political figures and other bigwigs to use the commencement platform to further their own agenda. Every year you consume (well, at least I consume) media reports about what so-and-so said in a commencement address. Sure, the speech *should* be about and for the students, but that is simply not the case much of the time.
posted by fleener at 10:52 AM on December 17, 2001

And if you read the text, joe's_spleen, you'd have realized that the commencement ceremony in question was a graduation, not a gathering of new students.

Don't put words in my mouth. I said nothing along the lines of opressing opinions and ideas to the point where nobody would notice. I said there are appropriate forums and graduation is not one of them. If everybody in the room had the same view on the matter, there'd be less of a problem here. However, it was a gathering of students who've completed their degrees and were looking forward to celebrating the occasion and marking it with the reception of their diplomas, not a group of students with the intention of listening to a politically focused speech at such an emtional, tempramental and fragile point in history. It's a day for everyone, not just one side (the speaker's side). There are plenty of other appropriate venues where someone who wishes to speak about current political issues could be heard.

I am not advocating heckling, but again, the speaker should have realized the possible reactions her speech was going to create. I wouldn't want the memory of my graduation day to be a room full of shouting, stomping hecklers.

Fleener - that doesn't justify it.
posted by tomorama at 10:56 AM on December 17, 2001

Those hecklers were baaaaadddddd.... baaadddd....bad.

By their actions they proved the point of the speaker. Censorship requires the consent of the censored this rate maybe not tomorrow. Consent to censorship was granted this time, no?
posted by nofundy at 11:51 AM on December 17, 2001

It hardly seems appropriate to air your political grievances at a graduation. You could easily rewrite this to be neutral and it would have made a damned fine speech.
posted by revbrian at 12:05 PM on December 17, 2001

University President Don Gerth:"I have never seen behavior like this"...Sir, you need to get out a little more; this has been a favored tactic of the left since the sixties. 'And the people were surprised to learn that it was indeed true that wearing the shoe on the other foot was uncomfortable'
posted by Mack Twain at 12:08 PM on December 17, 2001

So let me get this straight: these knuckleheads were stomping their feet and clapping in SUPPORT of the clampdown on civil liberties?
posted by Ty Webb at 12:12 PM on December 17, 2001

Is it just me, or did the university post the commencement address in black text on a black background? Was this a mistake or an attempt at pleasing everyone (read: spineless). [black/black on MacOS IE5]

I thought it was a well written speech, but open criticism of the government isn't talked about much these days, at least not vocally. There isn't much dissent on the airwaves, to people who get most of their news from television or radio her speech must have seemed treasonous.

I would also like to know where in the speech she was shouted down.
posted by joemaller at 12:20 PM on December 17, 2001

It's just you.
posted by NortonDC at 12:37 PM on December 17, 2001

Mack Twain, President Gerth was referring to the hecklers when he said "I have never seen behavior like this". Are you saying that the hecklers, who were booing a liberal message, are all members of the left???

Or, did you just totally misunderstand what he said?
posted by Neb at 1:01 PM on December 17, 2001

If you wanted to know when she was heckled go here for a student's view.
posted by revbrian at 1:03 PM on December 17, 2001

The first ammendment only guarentees protection from government censorship. The students, individually, or collectively, were excercising their own 1st ammendment rights by heckling her down. This was a perfect example of how the system should work. People who say deliberately provocative things in a public forum should expect to provoke a response, and, the more provocative the speech, the louder should be the response. I think Bush could use some heckling once in awhile for the retarding things he often says and does.
posted by plaino at 1:21 PM on December 17, 2001

She should have put her point across as a rap.

That's how you get through to da kids.
posted by holloway at 1:38 PM on December 17, 2001

"She destroyed our day as students"

Oh cry me a *fucking* river, your shockingly rude family and friends destroyed your day.

Whether or not you think this lady's speech was appropriate for the venue, the people in the audience were far, far out of line. Can't believe people are blaming the speaker for the audience's little riot-for-America.
posted by Sapphireblue at 1:49 PM on December 17, 2001

plaino: The "heckler's veto" is most definitely not protected speech under the 4th Amendment. You infringe upon someone else's right to speak (in a public forum) when doing this. In many places, heckling a public speaker can not only get you in trouble, but get you arrested. And, to repeat, it would be more than constitutional for poilce to throw your ass in the pokey in such a case.
posted by raysmj at 1:54 PM on December 17, 2001

At my college graduation from SUNY Binghamton in 1984, the speaker was Dr. Helen Caldicott, author, anti-nuclear activist, and founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility. She spoke about Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" initiative, his impending abrogation of the ABM treaty, and her fear that if Reagan were re-elected we were doomed to nuclear holocaust.

It was a scary time -- the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists had just moved the hands of its "Doomsday Clock" to 3 minutes before midnight. As Caldicott told us of her fears of impending doom, there was suddenly a round of loud booing from the parents, seated in the stands. Drowned out, she waited patiently until the volume diminished, then said, "I'm speaking to the graduates." The graduating class erupted in a very loud round of cheering and applause and Dr. Caldicott was able to finish her speech.
posted by eptitude at 1:54 PM on December 17, 2001

I wouldn't want the memory of my graduation day to be a room full of shouting, stomping hecklers.

Duh. Then condemn the hecklers. It was their behavior that was atrocious.

Those who want pablum-speak at their graduation are not ready for graduation from any university worth it's name.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 2:08 PM on December 17, 2001

Please enjoy these earlier threads about inappropriate booing! 1. 2.

I hope I stay young forever!
posted by thirteen at 2:11 PM on December 17, 2001

Are you telling me I don't deserve to graduate from my own school?

Booing and heckling in inappropriate.
Making political statements at someone else's graduation is inappropriate.

There is a time and a place for everything. Both sides of this debacle need to figure out what common sense is.
posted by tomorama at 2:24 PM on December 17, 2001

My bad. In New Zealand, such things are called graduation ceremonies: I assumed commencement was some sort of ceremonial induction.

Still: that's also a good time for thought-provoking injunctions to good citizenship. Perhaps my view is coloured by the fact that I largely agree with the speaker.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:54 PM on December 17, 2001

tomorama, my post wasn't an attempt at justification... just a clarification about the accepted nature of commencement addresses. Blame the school administration for choosing a newspaper publisher instead of a fellow student or instructor or someone the students look up to.

joemaller, the background color is coded as FFFFFF - white. It is just your Mac browser that is funky.
posted by fleener at 3:11 PM on December 17, 2001

I agree with a lot of the points (but not all) in her speech as well, but I think it's amazing how it took her roughly 13 paragraphs to delve into a full-on 9-11 editorial.
posted by tomorama at 4:21 PM on December 17, 2001

Would this story have been different had the commencement speech carried an anti-abortion theme and delivered by Pat Robertson?
posted by Oxydude at 4:48 PM on December 17, 2001

Thank you OXYDUDE! . 'And the people were surprised to learn that it was indeed true that wearing the shoe on the other foot was uncomfortable'
posted by Mack Twain at 5:02 PM on December 17, 2001

Maybe she was using too many big words?

No, she was challenging their oversimplified view of the world, something a graduation speech should do. It was a test, in a way, and the students failed miserably.

If you think graduation speeches should be nice and content-free, non-challenging drivel, then maybe you should be kept back a few years until you learn to think on your own rather than throwing a tantrum when you hear things you don't agree with.
posted by Poagao at 7:40 PM on December 17, 2001

So far as I can tell, both the student who reported to Drudge, and the president of the school admit that the heckling was started by people in the balcony - not the students themselves. However, after the heckling started some students did participate. So this is not a test in which the graduating students failed miserably. It was in fact an example of our first ammendment right in action.

Heaphy has the right to speak. Each individual in the room had the right to choose to or not to listen. Further, each individual has the right to speak out themselves. This however falls into the realm of "fire in the movie theater" syndrome.

It's impolite to heckle the person who has the microphone. Just as it's impolite to scream fire in a movie theater. And sometimes heckling can be even more disruptive than someone yelling fire in a movie theater. When an audience member goes to attendance of any public function, there are certain inalienable rights that we all are expected to postpone for the duration of the performance. If you go to a movie theater, you're told not to talk during the movie, so that everyone in the room can enjoy the film. No one came to listen to you. They came to see the show.

However, sometimes people in the audience feel the need to circumvent this unspoken agreement, for whatever reason, and it's then that the first ammendment is is exercised dangerously - sometimes even abused.

Heaphy had the right to speak her piece. No doubt her speech was possibly even scanned by someone before she went up to that podium. If not, surely the people who organized the ceremony knew of her well enough to be familiar with what she'd say - which is probably why she was chosen. They wanted someone of her caliber to speak to the graduates. Someone successful. Someone with views that would challenge young minds.

If one believes in inalienable rights, one must admit that the hecklers had the right to protest her words. However they were very anti-social and offensive in their approach. Unfortunately, this was the only response they had at the time. Had they quietly left the theater, this would have been a silent statement but it would have gone unnoticed.

Still, it would have been a more respectful response to the graduates. Heckling ends up ruining the fun for everybody, and makes the heckler look stupid no matter how they go about it.

Heaphy was wrong to stop speaking. That was her only crime. She should have stood there, taken the tomatoes in the face, waited for the noise to stop, and then keep on going until she was through. Had she been strong enough in her convictions, and believed enough in what she had to say, that is precisely what she should have done.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:07 PM on December 21, 2001

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