RALEIGH — The morning of May 17 did not start well for NC State University speaker Phil Donahue. Nearly half of the graduating seniors decided to cut his “lecture” that was disguised as a commencement speech at the ceremonies in Raleigh (at which I was present).
In years past, the 2,000 floor seats and the two center-court arena sections have been filled to capacity with the university’s 3,700 graduates. In spite of help from mild weather this year, not even the floor section was full at the beginning of the ceremonies. The two center arena sections were empty. The RBC Center, normally standing-room only, offered an abundance of choice seating for a change.
In his opening remarks, Phil bemoaned the fact that he had not been able to find another liberal to talk with since his arrival in Raleigh the previous afternoon. He suggested that the audience show some mercy and “take a liberal to lunch.” He then stated that immediately after his talk he was entering the federal witness-protection program and would be disguised in a dress somewhere in Idaho.
Phil then proceeded to harangue the parents for their role in trampling the United States Constitution and said that the graduates must protect this sacred document by becoming liberals.
He cited a number of violations of the constitution’s provisions which, according to him, would be rectified by liberalism.
The first such violation cited by Donahue was the trampling of free speech. His example was that he had been thrown off of cable TV. He neglected to mention that that it was a left-leaning network that canceled his show and that it was because his ratings were on the bottom.
Another rash on the constitution cited by Phil was caused by a president waging war without the formal declaration of Congress. However, the graduates seemed somewhat puzzled as to how the salve of liberalism would help. Harry Truman went into Korea and Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson went into Vietnam (not mentioning Bay of Pigs). Bill Clinton went into Kosovo. While one can debate the wisdom of these “police actions” or “interventions,” the fact that these constitution-tramplers were all liberals seemed to confuse many in the audience who were not well-versed in Phil’s style of liberal-think.
The boo birds started to come out at the RBC Center, and a graduate removed his cap and gown and exited floor left.
A shout of “George W. Bush” brought a thunderous cry of approval.
Mistaking this sentiment for the crowd’s help in citing perhaps an example supporting his thesis, Donahue moved on to discussing other travesties such as the “internment of 120,000 innocent Japanese” as a cause for every graduate to rise up in indignation and protect the constitution by becoming a liberal. Again, however, he failed to note that it was the quintessential liberal Franklin D. Roosevelt (or Frankie, as he is known here in NC) who locked down these fellow citizens.
More boos followed. Graduates did indeed begin to rise up by two’s and three’s but whether to seek out the nearest liberal sign-up station or to escape his harangue was not clear.
Taking no chances, Phil promised his talk was nearly over; but he still had one more example where constitutional mayhem needed fixing by liberalism — a New York City drug bust had gone awry, establishing the need to legalize marijuana. Phil described in minute detail how a 72 year-old man strangled to death on the vomit of his just-completed sumptuous dinner when forcibly held down by a policeman’s forearm across his back after trying to flee the scene despite the order to “FREEZE!”
It wasn’t clear whether Phil felt liberalism would have furnished the man with a free hearing aid or would have provided him with obedience classes, but Phil did not bother mentioning that such an instance occurred under the liberal Mayor David Dinkins beneath the statewide umbrella of liberal Gov. Mario Coumo. (Had she been in the audience, one wonders what Randy Weaver’s daughter would have thought about Phil and his liberal saviors in charge of law enforcement. Imagine her reflecting on Janet Reno’s FBI sniper who assassinated her mother from concealment 100 yards away as she stood holding her baby in the doorway to her home. Or reflecting upon liberal Reno’s minions as they burned the women and children to a crisp at Waco. Or upon Reno’s kidnapping an innocent child so that the liberal Clinton could turn him over to the brutal Cuban dictator whom the child’s mother had died escaping.)
By this point, the audience was getting very restive and graduates were leaving by the dozens. Local TV reported that “the boos rained down like confetti.”
To say that Phil then concluded his remarks would not accurately describe his last finger-shaking admonition mumbled prior to sitting down. Rather, he just sort of confusedly stopped his “Save the Constitution — Become a Liberal” diatribe by admonishing North Carolina and NC State University (which has the third largest biochemistry/biology program in the world) to get liberal and teach Darwinian evolution as the true science.
Had he bothered to ask, Phil could have learned that evolution has been a required component in the state’s “Standard Course of Study” for the public K-12 school system for many years.
Phil was thereafter accorded a mixture of polite applause in thanks for his silence and of exuberant boos for his demonstration of total ignorance of both history and the educational system in North Carolina. Several isolated, small jean-draped groups in the audience did give Phil a brief standing-O for his insistence that pot be legalized, but such sentiments were extremely rare and short-lived.
Chancellor Marye Anne Fox then rose to the podium and dished out a bit of scolding to the remaining about-to-be-graduated students on the subject of being polite to her fellow Notre Dame alumnus and invited guest. A brief flash of panic was evident on their faces as they wondered, “Could she really jerk our diplomas?” Magnanimity prevailed, however, and Fox deigned to continue the program by introducing the student speaker, Ms. Elizabeth Rose Gutierrez.
Ms. Gutierrez said that she had entered the competition for student speaker with a host of ideas about what she wanted to say with advice about life, education, and the world we live in. Upon winning this coveted honor and faced with actually having to write her speech, however, she conceded that that all of these ideas paled to insignificance when compared to what she viewed as the most important dictum for living one’s life. This key to true success is that we each must refuse to settle for mediocrity. We must each actively, consciously reject mediocrity, or we will be doomed to live the mediocre. Do not strive for anything less than your best. Ms. Gutierrez thanked the audience for their attention and sat down.
Her brief talk was stunning in its eloquence, timeliness, and total clarity. Her measured, precise tone and infallible reasoning completely cleansed the arena from the pollution of the prior pedantic ravings. In one stroke, Ms. Gutierrez exonerated the graduates of any guilt of the past while simultaneously lighting a sure path towards a promising future: strive for the best; reject mediocrity.
Chancellor Fox had no right to push her left-wing agenda by scraping a bitter, rejected Phil Donahue off of the bottom of the trash heap of outdated, aged flower children. It was a callous disservice to the fine young men and women who had worked so hard for their diplomas and had earned this momentous occasion which should have been an unmarred tribute to their years of effort and sacrifice. Although even mediocrity would have been an improvement over Phil, Chancellor Fox should learn from her students and heed Ms. Gutierrez’s words to go for the best in choosing the next guest commencement speaker – perhaps another Notre Dame alumnus with two New York Times best sellers and the top-rated TV commentary show in the entire nation.
Worst of all, Chancellor Fox has, since the commencement ceremony, acknowledged the fiasco by saying, "I share your disappointment in Phil Donahue's address to our graduates on Saturday. Mr. Donahue chose instead to use our ceremonies as a platform for a speech better suited for a political audience." She then spins off responsibility by saying that Phil was "invited by our Chair of the Faculty to provide an inspirational message to our graduates." However she made no move during Phil's address, as the boos arrived and the graduates left, to intercede. Rather she allowed him to bluster to the bitter end and then chided the audience for their intolerant behavior. As she stated at his conclusion, "It is a true mark of an educated person to listen carefully to all viewpoints, accepting or rejecting opinions in the context of one's values" which thereby effectively labeled most of her graduates as uneducated. So there; take that, you aggies!
So whoever chooses the next chancellor should also heed Ms. Gutierrez's words - eschew mediocrity, settle only for the best.
Baker is the founder of Roger Bacon Academy and Charter Day School in Brunswick County, North Carolina, and a board member of the John Locke Foundation. He is also an independent business consultant residing in Wilmington, N.C. Prior to entering the consulting business, Mr. Mitchell was Founder, President, and Owner of Community Health Computing, Inc. in Houston, TX. Before founding his own company, Mr. Mitchell was Chief of the Bioengineering Section at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He has also taught at the University of Arizona, the University of Texas, Baylor College of Medicine, and the University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.