I woke up to find several emails with this link, about E.L. Doctorow getting booed
while giving a Bush-bashing commencement speech at Hofstra; the interest to me being not the Bush bashing itself but the Long Island angle. As in, be proud of your fellow Long Islanders
E.L. Doctorow, one of the most celebrated writers in America, was nearly booed off the stage at Hofstra University Sunday when he gave a commencement address lambasting President George W. Bush and effectively calling him a liar.
Booing that came mainly from the crowd in the stands became so intense that Doctorow stopped speaking at one point, showing no emotion as he stood silently and listened to the jeers. Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz intervened, and called on the audience to allow him to finish. He did, although some booing persisted.
I know, Hofstra is not just made up of students from Long Island, but a good portion of the students there are home grown and those who aren't, well - four years on LI can easily wipe out whatever local tendencies you had before you got you here. Once you're embedded here, you assimilate. Just the way it is.
Knowing what I know about Long Island political demographics and the make-up of the general university student in America, combined with a intimate knowledge about the mind set of the typical Long Islander, I would have to say that these students weren't so much booing Doctorow for his anti-Bush statements, but for wasting their time with his drivel.
Commencement speeches are supposed to be inspiring or educational. You know - life sucks, wear sunscreen
. Sure, that may inspire one to enroll for four years of graduate school rather than go on to face the suckage of after-college life, but it's inspiring
So when Doctorow hijacked Hofstra University graduation day in order to spew his biased comments about the war and the president, the graduates reacted in typical Long Island fashion. They booed. I suppose many of them could have been booing in a "I'm pro-Bush and how dare you get up on that stage and denounce him" sort of way, but my last dollar says they were just pissed the hell off.
The local news last night brought up the free speech issue. Free speech
? Hardly. Being invited to give an address to a crowd of graduating students doesn't give you the right to show up with the sole purpose of stating your political agenda; and while this whole thing may or may not fall under some tenet of the constitution, the point is, it's just wrong. It would have been just as wrong if Doctorow had strode up to the microphone only to give a speech about how much he hates The Sopranos
or how much he loves McDonald's new adult happy meal. It's a graduation speech! Inspire! Give advice! Wear sunscreen! Hell, he could have gotten on stage wearing Spock ears and extolling the virtues of the Star Trek universe and it would have been fine as long as he said something like go forth and prosper
Well, yes. Some people were quite angry that Doctorow was dissing on the president. I know I would have been. Not even a time a place thing, there. I just happen to get pissy when people go off on anti-war tangents.
Many parents and relatives of the more than 1,300 undergraduates were livid over the address, saying afterward that a college graduation was not the place for a political speech. "If this would have happened in Florida, we would have taken him out" of the stadium, said Frank Mallafre, who traveled from Miami for his granddaughter's graduation.
Obviously, Frank is not a Long Islander, because if a native had that idea in his head, he would have done it. Just stand up, walk calmly to the stage and lay the smackdown on "one of the most celebrated writers" in America.
Bill Schmidt, 51, of North Bellmore, shared the outrage. "To ruin my daughter's graduation with politics is pathetic," the retired New York Police Department captain said. "I think the president is doing the best he can" in the war against terrorism.
Hey, I know that guy. In fact, I used to babysit for his daughter. Ouch. That will keep me on a "man do I feel old" kick for a while.
Many students also called Doctorow's speech inappropriate. Peter Hulse, 24, of Manchester, England, said, "He's a bit like Michael Moore."
Will. Not. Make. Fat. Joke.
Of course, there were those who thought Doctorow's behavior was absolutely appropriate.
"I thought this was a totally appropriate place to talk about politics because that's the world our students are entering," said sociology professor Cynthia Bogard. "I only wish their parents had provided them a better role model."
Well, Cynthia, that's just a bit of an insult to your students. See, they are already in that world. They are young adults, most in their early twenties already. So unless Hofstra University has a special cocoon covering it, allowing the sun to get in, but little else, your students are steeped in politics. Is it appropriate to talk about poltics during a commecement speech? Sure, if people can talk about sunscreen or read from Dr. Suess during graduation ceremonies, politics is certainly acceptable. After all, when you want to inspire, to send them off to go forth and prosper, you want to remind them to become active, productive members of society, which sometimes means getting involved in politics, whether at the local or national level. Politics may or may not, depending on the state of the world at the time of graduation, include war, terrorism and the like. But to base your entire twenty minute address on what you perceive as the president's failed attempt to wage a war, well, you are just asking for it.
I only wish their parents had provided them a better role model.
Looks to me like most of the kids at the graduation did have good role models. I don't know about Cynthia, but my parents taught me that it is absolutely rude to hijack someone else's special occasion to make it your own. My parents taught me that it is rude to be so opportunistic as to start rambling off your political beliefs to a captive audience that cannot debate or respond in kind.
Obviously, these parents decided that it was ok to boo a man who was ruining their children's graduation day. That's what I call being a role model.
E.L. Doctorow (and I have to admit that the first time I read the story, I read it as Cory Doctorow
and I thought, geee, I know he's written a lot of good stuff, but most celebrated writer in America? Oh, there are some really good links over there today) hopefully learned some valuable lessons, like what to say at his next commencement speech. Maybe something like this:
If I could offer you only one tip for the futureillegal war, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists bush lied people died, whereas the rest of my advice hasno wmds no basis more reliable than my own meandering bush stole the electionexperience. I will dispense this advice now.
See what happens? He gets to say whatever he wants to about Bush and the war, but by throwing in a few corny, not-written-by-Kurt Vonnegut
lines everyone goes away happy. The professors can applaud the anti-war sentiments, the students can applaud the profundity of the speech and the parents can applaud the fact that they no longer have to support their kids and not one of them has to waste time getting all pissed off at the speaker.
Originally, I was going to tie all this in with something I started writing last week about why I stay on Long Island, despite it being one of the most expensive places in the country to live.
Something about the Long Island attitude, how I could never fit in anywhere else.
I've got this Amy Fisher
thing going on. We all do, in a way. No, no, I'm not saying we all have a thing for hairy-backed auto mechanics with an IQ less than that ofa muffler. What I mean is veteran Long Islanders have developed a tough exterior from having to deflect all of the jokes about accents, big hair and general suburban snobbery. Say what you want about Amy, but she was one tough chick, even when she was played by Alissa Milano. Underneath that rough exterior was just a girl who wanted to be loved.
And that's us, hard shelled, but romantic. We're not Brooklyn tough, but we're not Queens wimpy, either. We're somewhere in between - soft enough to still enjoy our summer nights on the porch, waiting for the ice cream man and watching kids play, but tough enough to boo the world's most celebrated writer off the stage if necessary.