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E.L. Doctorow, Silly Professors and the Long Island Lolita (no, not really, but sort of)

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:
Wear sunscreen. 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.

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Comments

That's the Long Island I know.

The last thing an audience of hundreds (thousands) of LIers want is to be preached to. Most of them were just trying to make it through the ceremony while thinking about the traffic on Hempstead Tpke when they all spill out to go to Baci or wherever knowing there will be a huge wait.

We definitely have a "don't break my balls, have you seen the fucking traffic" attitude that permeates the rest of our lives.

This is reminiscent of the self important Times guy that went out to a commencement in the midwest and used the chance at an open mike infront of a crowd to enlighten the rubes about being duped into "Bush's phony war"...the uber-liberal faculty was shocked, shocked, I tell you, when the crowd almost rioted and just about booed the jackass off the stage.

The fourth estate ran the story for a couple of days, incensed at the quashing of dissent, intolerance of ideas, yahda, yahda, until others started pointing out a lot of the things you brought up in this piece...then it sort of...um, dropped off the scope, as it were.

heh.

This addresses are overrated. I can't even recall who gave mine.

Great picture of Hofstra's President trying to calm the "crowd" down on the cover of Newsday. I am sure next year they will pick someone less likely to stir the pot.

This really warms my heart.

It's also part and parcel with something we've seen from recent polls, that young people more than any other age group tend to be strong war supporters--and even if they have doubts, tend to react negatively to naked partisanship like this.

It makes me feel good for the future of America.

The Hofstra campus was built on a former WWII air field by a "Capitalist Pig", probably made a bundle off the war. It is one of the most beautiful campuses in the U.S. as it is a designated arboretum and parts of it a bird sanctuary. In spring it boasts the most fantastic tulip collection in the New York area, a regional flower and horticulture show and, BTW, shovels out a pretty good education. Twenty minutes could easily have been spent discussing the vision, effort, and results of our culture that brought together beauty and knowledge in such splendid harmony. Something to think about as we go forth and prosper.

It will be interesting to see what happens to alumni donations to universities, 10 years or so down the road. I can't imagine why anyone would have warm feelings toward an institution that has spent 4 or more years attempting to indoctrinate and intimidate them.

And I suspect that most current alumni, including wealthy ones, would stop giving money to their alma mater if they really knew what was going on there.

My commencement address (Boston University, '89) was given by George H. W. Bush, and it pissed me the hell off, not because of who it was (I was kind of proud to have the Prez speak at my graduation) but because it was essentially a foreign policy speech. Aside from a few tacked on comments praising Boston the city ("song filled Irish pubs" eech.), it was pretty much exclusively dedicated to outlining American policy towards western Europe.

This hacked me off, because call me crazy, but I always figured that a commencement speech was supposed to have something to do with the graduates, and what they'd be doing after leaving school.

"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"

EXCUSE ME, but what was Bush doing giving a commencement speech at Concordia University--in Wisconsin, a state which he lost to Gore by 6,000 votes? He will have made three commencement speeches by June 2. Do you want to bet that the substance of those speeches is to defend and expand on administratrion policies?
Wake up!

Farmer,

You missed the BU speech in 91 or 92 when my brother graduated. They did it right, as Fred Rogers (Thats Mr. Rogers to you) gave the speech, and as he approached the podium, the whole graduating class serenaded him with "its a wonderful day..."

That was the best commencement I have ever been at!

T

Tom -

Yeah, I heard about that. Ordinarily BU's commencement speakers have a certain gravitas about them - William Renquist, GHWB, Eduard Sheverdnaze - but I would have loved to have had Mr. Rogers as my commencement speaker.

Brad

You don't get it, do you?

I hate to take this personally but having grown up in Elmhurst, Queens I to say that having someone from Nassau call us wimpy silly.
Actually my first reaction was a little harsher but I editted it before posting out of my regard for you and the maturity I have gained through advanced age.

Please excuse the grammar errors in the above comment. I should have editted a little more as I was deleting the vitriol.

Starhawk, perhaps you should have spell checked too.

Great post, Michele.

What Brad said:

"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" EXCUSE ME, but what was Bush doing giving a commencement speech at Concordia University--in Wisconsin, a state which he lost to Gore by 6,000 votes? He will have made three commencement speeches by June 2. Do you want to bet that the substance of those speeches is to defend and expand on administratrion policies? Wake up!

Brad, honey. Simmer down. Now, when you find a place in my post where I said it would be ok for Bush to hijack a graduation with an agenda-ridden speech, you get back to me.

I'll be waiting.

Until then, please keep in mind that your penchant for going with the "he said, she said" line of debate is really making you out to be quite the idiot.

Queens wimpy?!?!

Wait, I grew up in Georgia. I moved here only 4 years ago. Carry on....

(And I had Mr. Rogers at my commencement, NCSU 1996. We sang the song =3= times. The first two times were impromptu, and the third we were led by Mr. Rogers himself. I got to shake his hand! Woo!)

I too am appalled at the assertion that Queens is wimpy.

"EXCUSE ME, .....
Wake up!"

Gee, the "they did it first/too" defense...we NEVER see that from the left do we?

Aren't you guys supposed to be the more mature, enlightened etc? Why bother acting like us if we're such thugs?

Perhaps if you are a politician you might be cut some slack on mentioning politics in a graduation address---particularly if you are the President, especially as such speaches have been known to announce major policy initiatives. This privilege does not extend to the usual riff-raff who give commencement speeches, however.

(And, frankly, anyone who seriously uses the phrase "Wake up!" in debate deserves ridicule.)

Good on the Long Islanders! I don't remember exactly who my commencement speaker was (it was nobody famous) but the speech was inspirational and politics-free. And this was the Berkeley English department graduation!

My graduation speech at my alma malus Colby left several non-leftie parental units seething with anger. It was one of those, everyone who isnt a leftie is evil, selfish etc type speeches. I have always wondered why colleges think its a good idea to insense their new graduates...esp. since they spend the rest of their time trying to blag money from them.

I am a proud member of the NPM Colby chapter. NPM= not a penny more.

May, 1982 Triton Jr. College - it was HOT!

Dan (ohh, nice chairs, I'll just take them) Rostenkowski, at that time head of Ways and Means - that was his district.

What do I remember?

Don't not vote for me because you disagree w/the way I voted, I must represent all the people.

---

If this guy got paid for this somehow, it's not about him, it's about them.

He can express his opinion anytime he wants personally, but when one is "paid" one should gear one's remarks towards one's audience.

These parents paid what, $75- $100 K for their kid's education and they hear this? They want to hear how wonderful their kid's generation is. Their kids are destined to be the next greatest generation, they want to hear this. These parents know what's ahead.

What I find really amusing is that the boos haven't been like that since the 60s. Umm, exactly where were some of those parents sitting during graduation back then?

Wind Rider, that was exactly what I thought of--the NY Times reporter was Chris Hedges and I commented at the time that his speech was as inappropriate as if a Republican in 1999 had used a commencement speech as an opportunity to talk about why Bill Clinton deserved to be impeached.

As for Bush's Wisconsin speech, I suspect it will NOT be overtly political. Kerry's giving commencement speeches to high schools; I speculated at Kerry Haters that it's because he's supposed to get a crowd of 5,000 rather than the 500 or so who usually show up at his events.

"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."

Well, it was drivel, all right, but I think that we should consider the possibility that there's a growing conservative and, dare I say, patriotic tendency among college students today. Rather encouraging.

What Sandy P. said.

Commencement is not the place for a speaker to ride his or her own hobby horse or spew diatribes about ANYTHING. Commencement is not about the speaker, it should be about the graduates.

I woulda been booing too, and I'm a prof.

Lessee... who used "Wake Up!" first? Oh, I remember, the Nazis! "Deutschland Erwache!"

Oops. Brad picked the wrong horse on that one.

Michele - good. you. resisted. fat. joke. Too bad you hit the hairy-backed one!

8^)

I'm hairy, and I cast a large shadow... and it's a good thing for you I'm not a lefty or I'd be playing PC victim cards on yaz!

Ryan

Brad's post is even worse than the "they do it too!" 'defense.' Notice how he hasn't even heard or read the text of GW's commencement addresses, he is attacking on the assumption that the addresses are political!!

Sheesh.

political commencement speeches are pretty common, you know. But the mere fact that Bush's three speeches this month and next are all in battleground states should make anyone with half a brain realize that symbolism trumps substance (see http://www.usatoday.com/news/politicselections/nation/president/2004-04-01-bush-cheney-speak_x.htm). Bush's address to Concordia is available online and I have read it, and it's all politics and religion (as the graduates are God fearing missionaries), intertwined, which is what Dubya does best. I guess what was surprising is that the parents at Hofstra would not have guessed that a fiction author would have such an agenda. Was he out of line? Maybe--I don't know what the rules are for Hofstra's commencement addressees. But let's ask ourselves, why is EL Doctorow, a very educated man, so upset with Bush?
And how would you feel if the speaker had praised Bush to the high heavens but not said a word of advice to the graduating class--would you have been upset about that?

"And how would you feel if the speaker had praised Bush to the high heavens but not said a word of advice to the graduating class--would you have been upset about that?"

Oh, for the love of God...as Darleen said above, you really don't get it, do you??

When I read about this yesterday I was more annoyed by the teacher's attitude than anything else. She taught some of these students and that's her assessment of their upbringing? She was supposed to have been a role model, too bad she didn't do a better job.

I'm a little surprised that quite a few people seem to make the assumption that their parents paid for their educations, many of us worked our own way through school and hopefully that tradition still lives on.

My commencement speaker was Sidney Lumet, I remember him being entertaining, not especially enlightening, but entertaining, other than that, I don't remember a word he said, I think I was too busy looking around at Alice Tully Hall.

I think you should boo and cheer all you want at graduation addresses, frankly. Politeness is overrated.

The reason a lot of people speak the way they do is they expect to be listened to without challenge.

No one would have written a story (or even cared) about this Doctorow fellow had everybody warmly and roundly cheered him (or maybe one, but we wouldn't be talking about it).

But a chorus of boos, and HEAVENS, THE SKY IS FALLING, THE SKY IS FALLING.

Those who don't like the booing can just grow up--they think they own the right to discourse and are finding that others won't let them. Their only response is cast judgmental aspersions of "rudeness."

Please. Doctorow is an adult. Let him fend for himself. And boo him if you like.

I would have.

Brad, I sure hope you're not suggesting that "being very educated" lends credibility to a position such as being "upset with Bush." Not a very convincing stance, especially considering that plenty of very educated people aren't "upset with Bush."

Well the guy can say whatever he wants, the college made the mistake in picking a loose cannon for the speech! If his speech had been patriotic or pro-Bush and caused outrage would this story have been posted here? Either way if this isn't something to give much a damn about.

And since W's at the Army War College, talking about Iraq is perfectly appropriate.

The speaker at my Graduation was E. L. Doctorow. Yes, That was my graduation that he Hijacked yesterday. After asking around, let me tell you why we were all upset.

Did many of my classmates actually hear of E. L. Docotorow before this day? No, Of course not. Would it have hurt our teachers to actually explain who was going to Graduation? Instead of telling us who this great author is, they continued to tell us that whatever the President is doing is wrong. Most of my teachers that i had in Hofstra over the last 4 years were Liberals and I just got used to it.They would tell us the anti-war grabage but they also told us other meaningful items for life. Mr. Doctorow never strayed from his anti-Bush speech for any of those 20 min.

Even after seeing a guy like Sen. Schumer who got up first to speak and never touched on the war once, Mr. Doctorow caught many by surprise. Adding to the fact that the Stadium was extremely hot and we were all wearing black gowns, a political speech bashing our President in a time of war just wasn't a good mix

Brad - you are a fucking idiot. I'm talking like textbook definition of the word. IDIOT.

Get a life you conservative scumbag! As a Hofstra graduate of the class of 2004, I was proud to have Dr. Doctorow discuss the sham that is the Bush administration.

How more and more evident it is becoming that the Party Of Tolerance, Compassion, and Open-Mindedness spews nothing but baseless vulgarities when pushed into a corner. Mind you, not pushed into a corner as in bullying, but backed up legitimately as to force explanation and/or debate. The PTCOM, however, is pretty much incapable of logical, interpretive debate and open-mindedness unless it concerns their own agenda. Here we have another example with Miguel's astounding use of the English language in order to attempt to prove his point. Not one person who was in favor of doctorow's speech seems capable of seeing the forest for the trees in this posting. Why is that? Could it possibly be their own personal agenda keeps getting in the way? Maybe there are just too many trees to SEE the forest? I'd suggest you cut a few down but that would be politically incorrect, too.

Miguel ya douchebag. There is no way in hell you even knew who the hell E.L. doctorow was before he even got up onto that stage. Im glad you liked the "Sham" he was talking about. Judging from the crowd and students it was 12,000 against you and our blinded faculty. So once again you are in the minority....Miguel

The anti-intellectualism of Long Islanders can always be counted on.

Wow, the fact that no one is embarrassed to not know who this author is, and to be more worried about their after parties than about the serious state of the world today only deepens the already profound joke that is Long Island to anyone from elsewhere in the world. This represents a classic U.S. symptom of excess, denial, and bigotry...not to mention illiteracy and just plain tackiness. There can be no effective response to this as it is the small heckling minority of beer-swilling, backward baseball cap-wearing dunderheads versus the civilized and well-read world

Hey,
I am one of the many graduates that was part of the embarrassing expierence with E. L. Doctorow. It pains me to know that there are individuals out there who have taken away the credibility of the students, faculty and institution as a whole. I have stayed up night after night trying to get a paper done, study for the stats exam, and have virtually lived on caffeine pills to get to the point of commencement. For individuals to boo it was just plain wrong. Indeed, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and while Doctorow may have hurt some individuals, he was clearly stating truth. As people in this society we should be aware of the truths that the media portrays and the blatent lies. I firmly believe that he wanted the graduates to understand the media and politics, and for individuals to view the media in a critical gaze. Despite the fact that, he was booed and my graduation was turned into a stadium filled with angry audience members I am glad it was said.

Bottom line we struggled to attain achievement and prosper as young intellectuals for our own well being.

Hey,
I am one of the many graduates that was part of the embarrassing expierence with E. L. Doctorow. It pains me to know that there are individuals out there who have taken away the credibility of the students, faculty and institution as a whole. I have stayed up night after night trying to get a paper done, study for the stats exam, and have virtually lived on caffeine pills to get to the point of commencement. For individuals to boo it was just plain wrong. Indeed, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and while Doctorow may have hurt some individuals, he was clearly stating truth. As people in this society we should be aware of the truths that the media portrays and the blatent lies. I firmly believe that he wanted the graduates to understand the media and politics, and for individuals to view the media in a critical gaze. Despite the fact that, he was booed and my graduation was turned into a stadium filled with angry audience members I am glad it was said.

Bottom line we struggled to attain achievement and prosper as young intellectuals for our own well being.