No love was lost last year for a graduation speaker who studied ants for a living.
Indeed, Harvard professor E.O. Wilson set the bar low. As one dailytarheel.com comment courtesy of “Grad” attested, “Anything is better than what we had this past spring …”
Though faint, that comment offered a glimmer of the hope and excitement that greeted New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s selection for 2012 commencement speaker. But now, at least 123 people have brought UNC back to its old ways.
As of Thursday night, those 123 people signed their names to an online petition calling for UNC to revoke Bloomberg’s invitation, bringing the petition slightly more than a tenth of the way toward its 1,000 signature goal.
A letter signed by the petitioners argues that Bloomberg doesn’t represent UNC’s mission, which they interpret as “building a more equitable, democratic and community-rich world.”
They feel this way because of the middle-of-the-night eviction of the Occupy Wall Street protestors from Zuccotti Park. The petition puts it bluntly: “Bloomberg has directly chosen to silence his constituents by dismantling the encampment at Zuccotti Park.”
Not everyone agrees with the tactics and practices of the Occupy protesters, or of the police who cleared them from public spaces. Various polls have shown a surprising amount of support for at least one of their few complaints: income inequality.
So, would revoking Mayor Bloomberg’s invitation be the wisest move? The Occupy protests are important to most citizens one way or another. And whichever way that is, Bloomberg is an important figure in the movement’s narrative.
So maybe opposers and Occupiers shouldn’t protest his scheduled appearance, but embrace it.
Decades ago, a commencement speech was lucky to receive widespread coverage courtesy of a few quotes in a newspaper article. Now, in the digital and information age, speeches that are even barely worth their while are filmed with iPhones, uploaded on YouTube and reduced to pull quotes by the media.
With so much coverage, attention and detail, a speaker reflects more on the University’s judgement than what is said. Should this event — the beginning, or commencement, of graduates’ next stage of life — reflect UNC’s judgement, or the graduates?
Even if only 123 people are willing to digitally attach their name to a proposition against Bloomberg’s speech, everyone deserves the chance to voice their passions and concerns.
The commencement speaker should be a contemporary of new graduates, not administrators. Bloomberg is still more than welcome, but it should only be to have a conversation with students, not to preach at them.
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