I never really used to pay much attention during commencement season. I do remember occasionally hearing about big names speaking during the ceremonies at various colleges.
Denzel Washington speaking at Dillard University caught my eye when it happened. This past month, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal spoke at Valdosta State University’s graduation. My noticing those two names, however, came merely as a result of a coincidence of social media on the one hand and the convenience of location on the other.
While I’ve always known that famous individuals tend to give commencement speeches, I’ve never run through lists to see who was speaking where. When I attended VSU’s graduation a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know that the governor was going to be there until I showed up for the event and read the program.
I’ve never considered these speeches to be all that controversial. Typically, the speaker is just a successful individual who has been asked to share some insight into how they’ve achieved their success. Their aim is to motivate and perhaps yield a little wisdom. Rarely do such speakers, in my experience, seek to make a major political statement during their speech.
In our era of ever contentious politics, however, even a ho-hum, go-get-’em sort of speech can become something like a traumatizing event for some.
In most commencement speeches, whether the person falls on the left or the right side of the ideological spectrum, you’re likely not going to hear a whole lot of objectionable content. In fact, most people would probably say a lot of the same things during a commencement address, whether they are on the right or the left.
Our inability to listen to those with whom we disagree has become a serious issue in our country. When we can’t even stand to hear them give a basic address during an event like commencement, we have a real problem.
Fareed Zakaria, in a recent video, makes an excellent point about how this has been playing out in universities lately: “American universities these days seem committed to every kind of diversity except intellectual diversity. Conservative voices and views, already a besieged minority, are being silenced entirely.”
And while we complain about such biases in these institutions, we should never forget that we all, individually, have a responsibility to avoid becoming too biased. We desperately need to get out of our bubbles as much as possible.
Working your way through an opposing view can be challenging intellectually as well as emotionally, but we need regularly to experience and analyze opposing arguments. When we do this, we learn the ability to think critically and effectively about our own views.
This is the only way that we can truly start thinking seriously and deeply about every issue. When we do so, we will find that we grow as people who have a better understanding of the world around them.