Condoleezza’s Insights Will Be Missed at Rutgers

“I am honored to have served my country.  I have defended America’s belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas.”  These are the words of Condoleezza Rice in her recent statement declining an invitation to speak at the commencement ceremony for graduating seniors at Rutgers University, due to protests from a small, but vocal, group of faculty and students.

It is unfortunate that select students and faculty at Rutgers are so enamored with a narrow perspective on life that it renders them incapable of considering the viewpoint of an individual mindful of a different angle.  The free exchange of ideas, so universally respected in American campuses, is seemingly limited to the free exchange of thoughts deemed progressive or liberal.  To some, the voice of a conservative is not deemed worthy of admission at a graduation ceremony.  Though unfortunate for its representation of narrow-minded academia run amuck, the greater injustice is to the graduating seniors themselves, who miss out on an opportunity to listen to the words of a historical figure in American history.  Condoleezza Rice, a woman of immense and diverse talents, would undoubtedly provide the graduating seniors with useful words of wisdom.

For instance, she might offer insights into the importance of the arts or athletics for a well-rounded individual – a relevant topic for Rice given her background as a renowned concert pianist and the fact that she was the first female entrant into the nation’s most prestigious golf club, Augusta National.  Additionally a former Board of Trustee member for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Rice has also performed music publicly with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, one of the great cellists of our time.  Her years of classical training and experience with the high arts give her authority to speak on the topic.

Alternatively, she could offer her thoughts on the significance of higher education and the need to sharpen one’s mind throughout every stage of life.   Her tenure as a professor for over 30 years at one of the world’s premier institutions, Stanford University, might provide some appropriate perspective for this topic.  She might also add insights on the role of academia by discussing her position within the university’s administration, in which she served as the first female, first minority and youngest Provost in the history of Stanford.

Perhaps she might provide unique insights into a relevant issue of the day, such as the unfolding situation in Ukraine and Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea.  After all, she studied at Moscow State University in 1979 and has a Ph.D.  in political science, with a particular expertise in Russian and former Soviet affairs.  It was her expertise in this area that was the catalyst for her foray into public service, which would likely interest a few of the graduating seniors.  Speaking of public service, many students would welcome Rice’s thoughts as to how she was able to overcome the anger and despair of growing up in racially segregated Alabama to eventually become the first female African American Secretary of State in the history of the United States.

Or Rice could alternatively inform the students that one’s perspective on life is capable of evolving over time.  For instance, she could tell the story of a woman who viewed the world through a lens of inexperience and idealism in the late 1970s and called herself a Democrat.  Dissatisfaction with Democratic foreign policy in the late 70s and early 80s in part led her to become a Republican.  Rising within the ranks of the Republican party, she would go on to speak at the 2000 Republican National Convention.  There, she would tell the Convention that, “my father joined our party because the Democrats in Jim Crow Alabama of 1952 would not register him to vote.  The Republicans did.”

Rather than discussing her own experiences, she could sum up an overall message that a student’s perspective on life, particularly at the age of 22, is limited and subject to change.  She might quote single line from Hamlet, one of the most famous books in the English language: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Instead, the Rutgers students who successfully lobbied for Rice to drop herself as commencement speaker will continue to view the world from a particular, limited vantage point.  Perhaps one day, that perspective will change.

(Ben Everard is a contributor to California Political Review. Originally published on California Political Review.)