In her commencement address at Wesleyan University, Penn President Amy Gutmann acknowledged the fact that she was not many graduates' first choice.
Referring to a student poll, Gutmann said, "I trailed such real-world emissaries as Oprah, William Safire and even Kermit the Frog. But there is hope: Last I checked, I was comfortably ahead of Miss Piggy and Paris Hilton. Well, Paris Hilton, anyway."
For the majority of her speech, though, Gutmann
focused on the serious subject of mutual respect.
Arusha Gordon appreciated Gutmann's humor, but she was disappointed with her choice of topic. She thought Gutmann gave a "solid address, but she didn't inspire me at all. I felt like I was in a government class discussing theory."
Mutual respect, Gutmann said, "is not about walking on eggshells. It is not about playing down differences. Rather, it is about giving serious consideration to our differences and disagreement and working through them."
She decried the recent controversy over the Terri Schiavo case and the fight over judicial nominations in the Senate, saying, "we are living in a smash-mouth culture in which extremists dominate public debate to the point of hijacking it.
"You cannot have a reasoned discussion about abortion when one side is slandered as 'baby-killers' and the other is smeared as 'religious wingnuts.' It is hard to pursue a reasoned debate about the Iraqi war when opponents of the war are accused of treason and the president of United States is compared to Hitler."
Gutmann also mentioned her meeting with Nelson Mandela, to whom she pointed as a model of respect. even to the white South Africans who had kept him locked up for 28 years. When someone asked Mandela why he had no bitterness toward the white South Africans that had his oppressors, his response was one Gutmann said she would never forget. "'I could not wish what happened to me and my people on anyone, not on any human being.'"
Gutmann called on the graduates to foster mutual respect and turn away from the "shrill" demagoguery of radio and television talk shows. "Without mutual respect, our democracy is dead," she said. "And so are your prospects for living in a just and peaceful world."
Gordon, the author of a scathing letter to the editor in The Wesleyan Argus that blasted the choice of Gutmann as the "final disappointment," though, was still not satisfied. "It was what I expected: a good speech about democratic theory," she said. "No one was blown away."
Wesleyan graduate Matthew Gottlieb was impressed by Gutmann's speech but had not been as skeptical as Gordon. "She's the president of an Ivy League university," he said of Gutmann. "She didn't get there by not having anything interesting to say."Comments powered by Disqus
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